By Frank Lesko, Coordinator of Justice and Peace

Our culture pays so much attention on the gentle scene in Bethlehem of 2,000 years ago.  Jesus was born in desperate circumstances, but it is easy to let that noise settle into the background and focus on the intimate love of a family.  Jesus comes to us innocent and vulnerable as a newborn child.

It is difficult to reconcile that with the readings today.  As we kickoff Advent this year, Jesus roars in on a thunder cloud.  Onlookers literally die of shock, according to Luke.  Advent is a season of hope.  Is this what we are hoping for?

It is good to keep in mind that many ways that Christ comes to us.  There are many ways that our eyes can be awakened to the life around us and the call of Christ.  We remember the birth of Jesus over 2,000 years ago.  We celebrate the presence of Christ in our lives today.  We look forward to the future when Christ comes again in fulfillment of the kingdom.

It is hard to understand these scenes of a future coming of Christ.  Many scholars suggest that this type of apocalyptic literature is more about the present moment than predictions about some distant future.  The kingdom is not only in the future, but he also tells us that the Kingdom is now.

Those of us who have lost a loved one or who feel the bitter pangs of regret know that reality can hit us like a thunderbolt.  When we least expect it, the impossible happens.  What we think will never happen happens.  The debts of tomorrow become due today.  The Gospel calls us to be watchful, be ready.

An inmate on North Carolina’s death row recently wrote to us and shared this heartbreaking story:

“My situation is a devastating one and I truly wish that things had gone differently than they did, but no matter how apologetic I am, I can’t change the past I can only make better decisions for the future.”

Scientists are largely in agreement that recent weather patterns are directly the result of climate change brought about by human fossil fuel usage.  We have been hearing the debates about climate change now for at least 30 years.  A couple weeks ago, Hurricane Sandy devastated the northeast and parts of the Caribbean.  Whether we are ready or not, the waves rush in.

There is grace in these lessons.  Through grief we can mourn the past but also make promises to treasure loved ones in the present moment.  Even the inmate on death row bravely sees a future with better decisions than his past.

In these Advent readings, we learn to be watchful, to be ready.  That is because whether we are ready or not, life is still going to happen, grace will still break into our world, and we can make the most of difficult circumstances but if we are watchful we do not have to die in fright but rather accept the new moment.