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December 2, 2018
[St. Patrick Church, Kaimuki]
This weekend the Honolulu City Lights display opens. It is a joyous display of fantasy and whimsy, celebrating a joyous time of year. And even though the Diocese of Honolulu won the lottery to put up a display, and the display is a manger scene, depicting the beautiful story of the birth of Jesus, we all know that the City Lights display is quite secular in its themes. It is fun, beautiful and joyful, but it may not be too explicit about the reason for this wonderful season, which some of us still call – Christmas!
The Church, interestingly enough, begins this beautiful season of Advent on a different note. Instead of light-hearted fun, it focusses on the calamities that will come at the end of the world. “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world.” And these are not just empty words. Just this week we saw some monster waves that wreaked great havoc on our coastline. Just a few days ago I spoke to my staff about what we should do if an active shooter should come into one of our churches – something that has been happening all too frequently. And then there is the sex abuse crisis, which has shaken our Church like an earthquake. We do not have to rely on the Scriptures to paint a picture of frightening circumstances. They are right before our eyes.
But there is an even greater contrast between the joyous sights and sounds of this season, captured so beautifully in something like Honolulu City Lights, and the proclamation of the gospel. On January 2, all the whimsical and fantastic sights and sounds of our civic display will be packed up in crates and stored away until next year, and life will return to normal. But we who believe in Jesus are told, in the very midst of all these trials and tribulations and frightening phenomena, to hold up our heads high and stand firm, because our redemption is near at hand – a redemption that will last forever.
This is Jesus’ way of reminding us that we simply cannot save ourselves from the catastrophes that are upon us or from those that may yet come. In fact, we have managed fairly well to bring many of these catastrophes upon ourselves. We can easily be caught off our guard, becoming drowsy, carousing about how much we can accomplish, and becoming drunk on pride over our own achievements. We can easily anesthetize ourselves to the great sufferings of the world, choosing instead to just be content with our own little daily anxieties. We can easily forget that we desperately need a Savior, who will wake us up, to engage us in fighting the battles against evil that need to be waged within our own personal lives and in the life of our broader society.
We need not look at the sun, the moon, and the stars to see frightening things happening in our schools, where there is bullying and such competition that many youths have given up on life. We do not need to look at monster waves when violence is often right within our own homes and hearts. We need not search far for anxiety when the bright and joyous lights in our city are contrasted with the tents and shopping carts that have become a much too familiar part of our cityscape. But neither do we need to drink ourselves into a stupor or distract ourselves so that we do not experience the pain of seeing so much suffering. Instead, we celebrate the fact that we do have a Savior, who has come to us and who will come again. He is a Savior who does not run away from anything – even things as frightening as the cross. And it is to prepare the way for this Savior in our hearts and in our world that we follow his command to refuse to let the frightening follies of the world overcome us; that we raise our heads high so that we will receive the strength to escape the tribulations and to bring others with us to the place of rest in this simple, humble Savior, Jesus our Lord.