02 December 2019

From Gratitude, Dreams, and Divine Promises to Commitment

Last Friday's readings gave us a lection from Daniel and one from Luke. Because those readings were preceded by Thanksgiving and its celebrations and led immediately into Advent I found it a little difficult to separate them off from all that was going on both within and without in order to construct a homily for Friday's service. Daniel 7:2-14 gave us the account of the dream of four beasts and the coming of the Son of Man, of courts, judgment and the shifts in dominion that come to our world in light of the coming of the Son of Man. Daniel's dream predominates -- and, like all dreams, usually gives interpreters fits! But there is also a strong element of promise to this pericope from Daniel. Luke's lection (Lk 21:23-29) admonishes us to read the signs of the times and proclaims the Kingdom of God as being "at hand" -- a kingdom which will never pass away. With Luke we move more strongly from dreams to the promise of God's own future.

It is an enigmatic future, one veiled in challenging imagery (multi-headed beasts with wings and horns, domination by these beasts, thrones and courts of judgment). On Friday we talked some before the service about nightmares. One person had said he hoped I was going to explain the first reading and I knew I wanted to move away from interpreting the dreams directly (a sure way of trivializing them) to speaking of dreams more generally. The sharing folks did about nightmares helped prepare them for hearing Daniel in a way which eased their bewilderment by the images he was actually using. Sometimes dreams allow us to get in touch with the potentialities we need to live, sometimes they help us express our feelings regarding the "monsters" which may fill our lives with fear or otherwise dominate them. Whether we are dealing with nightmares and the powers needing to be overcome or the more positive dreams linked to potentialities God's promises help focus and put them in perspective.

Our own addition of Thanksgiving to the days moving us into Advent also helps focus everything in terms of God's promises, God's future. For that day our entire nation spends time getting in touch with all the ways God has gifted us in our lives, all the ways God has helped achieve our deepest dreams or overcome our darkest nightmares, all the ways God has created a significant future for and with us. These three elements, gratitude, dreams, and promise help move us to commitment to this same God and (his) plans for creation. They are present not only in the days preceding Advent, but in the readings throughout the season. Advent is the time we spend deepening our sense of gratitude, getting in touch with our own dreams, and sharpening our sense of Divine promise (including the promise we bear within ourselves and are called to realize in space and time). It is a time marking something new coming, a season celebrating our growing openness to incarnation.

John O'Donahue says that sometimes beginnings take a long time and are very rich; they are as full as the time between the moment an artist picks up a brush and the moment he sets that brush to canvas. For us Advent is analogous; we have a season of fullness (marked by promise and dreams) between the first Sunday of Advent and Christmas day; it is season in which we prepare for the way God will be incarnate in our own lives and future through our own (re)commitment to Christ. As we begin I imagine and wonder what "painting" (commitment) is being prepared by the grace of God in the time between the moment I pick up the brush, the beginning of Advent, and the moment I touch it to the canvas (Feast of the Nativity).