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This is not forever

November 29, 2015
IMG_8073

A little out of focus, but the only photo I have with Hadeel.


A reflection for the 1st Sunday in Advent, year C. The readings are Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25; 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2 and Luke 21:25-28, 34-36.

When I was in Jordan 5 years ago, I met Hadeel. She’s a young Iraqi refugee. She’d come to Jordan five years before with her family because of the war and persecution of Christians. She had finished highschool in Jordan and been accepted into dental school. She wanted to be a dentist. But refugees in Jordan can’t work and they can’t become citizens, so all they can do is wait. Wait for things to change back home so they can return or wait until the United Nations or Caritas or the Pontifical Mission Societies or some other organization can help them find refuge in another country. Hadeel thought maybe she could go to Sweden or Germany, or maybe Canada. I wonder whatever happened to her.

I was thinking about her because it seems that all we are talking about now here in Canada is refugees; how we must welcome refugees. But also because I think that our three readings today speak of this very issue. Bad things happen; war, persecution; people are displaced and they have to wait for things to get better.

The first reading from the Book of Jeremiah is written for the exiled Jews in Babylon. But Jeremiah started speaking to the Jewish people way before the exile to Babylon. He kept telling them that bad things were going to happen if they did not change their ways. And they didn’t change their ways and bad things happened: The Assyrians invaded, they killed the king, destroyed the temple – that was the destruction of the first Temple, the temple Solomon built – and most of the Jews were exiled to Babylon. But afterwards, Jeremiah didn’t say, “I told you so.” Instead he changed his message to one of hope – these are all the beautiful readings from Jeremiah that we hear during the Advent season: Bad things happen, war, persecution; people are displaced and they have to wait for things to get better. And things will get better. This is not forever. The tree of Judah has been cut down but from that stump a new shoot will sprout. For the Jewish people that pointed to the Messiah. For us, Christians, it points to Jesus Christ. Suffering is not forever. There is hope.

St. Paul is telling the Thessalonians something very similar. Now it’s not exactly the same situation – Christians in Thessalonica were not exiled, but there was some persecution of Christians and there was some push-back to Christianity coming to that part of the world. In fact, when Paul was there, he’d had some problems and had to leave in a hurry (Acts 17:1-10). Bad things happen; persecution – but this is not forever. There is hope. And what do we do while we’re waiting? ‘Cause it’s easy to despair and it’s easy to get caught up in the difficulties and problems of daily living. So we should continue to “be blameless in holiness” and conduct ourselves “to please God.” Jesus is coming and we need to be ready.

And Jesus is saying very similar things to his disciples in the Gospel of Luke. We have to remember, however, that, while these words are attributed to Jesus – and He probably said some of these things – the Gospel of Luke was written some 50 years after the resurrection. So, a lot of these things that Jesus is talking about had already happened. The Second Temple was destroyed in the year 70, about 15 years before the Gospel of Luke was written. This was a time of great persecution for Christians and they were displaced. Most Christians survived the destruction of Jerusalem because Jesus had warned them about the signs and they fled to the hills. That’s why the centre of Christianity was not Jerusalem but Antioch. Jerusalem was destroyed. Bad things happen; war; persecution; people are displaced and they have to wait for things to get better. This is not forever. There is hope.

But, as the Thessalonians, we tend to get into routines. We tend to despair, or we get caught up in the busy-ness and anxieties of life. Jesus is warning us against this. We must always be ready for the end of times. We must always be ready for our own death, “live every day as it was your first day; your last day; your only day.” We are refugees waiting to go home. And everything we do should be ordered towards that. The most important thing for us is to get to Heaven. The second most important thing is for us to bring others to Heaven with us.

And so the most important thing is our relationship with God. That’s why today’s Psalm says, “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.” That’s the only thing that matters. What are we doing every day to nurture our relationship with God? How is your prayer life? Do you speak to (even if it’s yelling and complaining) God every day? Do you spend some time in silence listening to God speak in your life? Do you read Scripture? Do you pray with Scripture? Do you study Scripture? That’s why every Parish has all kinds of programs to help you grow in Faith. You can read books. If you don’t like reading books, you can watch documentaries (here’s a plug for Salt + Light TV. Actually, if you want to learn about Hadeel and other Christians in the Holy Land, look for my documentary, Living Stones: Walking Humbly in the Land We Call Holy; there’s lots of great stuff at S+L TV). Do you follow Catholic News? Do you read what Pope Francis is saying? In fact, last Friday, in Kenya, in a meeting with young people, Pope Francis said something about what we’re talking about today:

“Life is full of difficulties, but there are two ways of looking at difficulties: either a person looks at them as something that blocks him, destroys him, stops him, or he looks at them as an opportunity. It is for you to choose. For me, is a difficulty a way of destruction or it is an opportunity to surmount my whole situation, that of my family, of my communities, of my country? Boys and girls, we don’t live in Heaven, we live on earth.

And the earth is full of difficulties. The earth is full not only of difficulties but of invitations to deviate to evil. However, there is something that all of you young people have that lasts a time: the capacity to choose. What way do I want to choose? Which of these two things do I want to choose? To allow myself to be defeated by the difficulty or to consider the difficulty an opportunity, with which I can win?”

We can sit around waiting, we can despair, or we can get distracted by the busy-ness and anxieties of life. When I met Hadeel she couldn’t do much, but she was volunteering with the Franciscan Sisters helping out with a Bible Camp for the refugee children. There’s always something we can do while we wait for Heaven. But we have to remember that the reason we are doing it is because we are on our way to Heaven and we want to help others get there too!

Advent is a time to remind us that we are all refugees. But it’s also a time to remind us that this is not forever. So let’s stand up straight with our heads high because Jesus is coming soon!

Now, that, is forever!

 

From Sarah Hart:

 

Read more about my experiences in Jordan, Israel and Palestine:

  • Living Stones
  • Conversations on the Middle East – part 1
  • Conversations on the Middle East – part 2
  • Conversations on the Middle East – part 3
  • Conversations on the Middle East – part 4

 

 

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From → English, Reflections

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