Do-Overs, Reboots & Second Chances

First Sunday of Advent

I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving holiday with your families. I thoroughly enjoyed having my family here this year. They all arrived late Wednesday, and the last of them left for home Saturday morning. If you have to travel, despite how enjoyable your visit always is, you will not be at all sad to return home finally. Dorothy said it best, there’s no place like home. If you are visiting from out of town, to be with family, perhaps you’re staying at the resort, despite how enjoyable your visit has been, you will need little convincing why you must return home at some point. It always is an huge undertaking to bring people together. We can not dismiss the burden of inconvenience other people have to shoulder to make these events possible. But all turns out well because most are mindful to be on their best behavior. It takes a tremendous amount of self-control to restrain yourself lest you later regret anything you say or do. Besides, it’s a short visit. No point disrupting the fragile balance of world peace purely out of spite. Those who travel give up familiar surroundings and regular routine, often enduring less than ideal lodging arrangements, while they are expected to be at all times cheerful and pleasant. When I travel, I will start out in a good mood. By day two, I discover what I forgot to pack, causing some degree of distress in proportion to my need. By day three, if I have not found a proper replacement or convinced myself I can do without, I go into survival mode. By day four, I am at the fifth and final stage of grieving, and I can be at all times annoyingly cheerful and pleasant. The ones who host family holiday get-togethers also make significant sacrifices, like cleaning and sprucing up their homes for the impending onslaught weeks in advance, then meeting their guests’ every need while forgoing their own comfort. A good host’s fondest wish is that everyone return home with wonderful memories of the time spent together. A good host’s most fervent hope is that they have set the bar high, yet would not be opposed to hosting again with a little arm-twisting, as well as sufficient time to recuperate first.

Thanksgiving, like other family holidays, is a time to renew friendships and family ties. And since we neglect the elephant in the middle of the room (if there is one), we might rather do things together instead, like go shopping or watch TV or cook and eat like pigs. Mostly we eat like pigs. But the over-all comfort level usually hinges on our individual relationships. At times everything is just wonderful. At times there might be tension. And we all handle tension differently. Some pretend tensions don’t exist, or that they aren’t bothered.  Some will seethe and fume quietly. Some will lob incendiary comments to force a confrontation. Some will walk out in frustration or anger. And those who don’t do tension well will wish for a do-over, a re-boot, a second chance. Maybe we can go back to before the ugliness, before words were spoken that we can’t take back, before the threats and ultimatums, or before the year 2000. No one is certain a do-over will guarantee a better outcome, only that the present situation is not the best. Hoping for a do-over is simply a cry for help.

So we begin this new season of Advent with a cry to God for help. We know we’ve made a mess of things sometimes. We should have paid closer attention. We should have read the directions. We have no one else to turn to, nowhere else to go. We have put all our trust in our own wisdom and technology, our measurable data and our trending indicators, the advice of our experts and specialists, but we know we are missing out on so much. We could use a do-over, a reboot, a second chance. Like the prophet Isaiah, we call out, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as they had not heard of from of old. … Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!” It is never easy for proud people like ourselves to admit that we have not lived up to our God’s expectations of us. But our God is not a vengeful God. Our God is ever aware of our inattention and our negligence, our failings and our hardness of heart. We might point to our own pain, our struggles and suffering, and be riddled with guilt. We tell ourselves it doesn’t take a genius to see God’s hand at work – punishing us, striking back at us for our sins. Yet this is the natural logic of a child at odds with mom and dad, while our pain and struggle and suffering are often the result of our own selfish choices and actions. Scripture reminds us our God will never abandon us. He continues to send us signs like beauty and wonder, and small successes, the wonderful people who love us despite our flaws, and the many more prophets and messengers throughout history who speak to us the wonders of God’s favor and mercy. Yet we have not always listened, we have not always been mindful of God’s ways. “Yet, O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.”

Jesus instructs us to be watchful and alert. When darkness and danger surround us, when the road is steep and the journey is long, when our enemies overpower us and our friends desert us, may we remember that God has not forgotten us. His coming might be delayed, but he will be here. “May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.” So be watchful and alert. It is interesting that the gospel situates the Lord’s return after nightfall – “whether in the evening or at midnight, or at cockcrow or in the morning.” At a time before electricity and artificial light, most human work ceased at day’s end. Families huddled behind locked doors. Shepherds and night watchmen kept alert for the dangers that lurked in the darkness. We are naturally most fearful when darkness is about us. But it is exactly in our time of need that God is closest. We might not perceive his presence, but he is with us. St. Paul reminds us that the grace of God has been bestowed on us in Jesus Christ, and in him we are enriched in every way … so that we are not lacking in any spiritual gift as we wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. … God is faithful, and by him we were called to fellowship with his Son. St. Augustine even wrote once, “God is closer to us than we are to ourselves.”

On the day of our baptism, God set each of us apart and marked us as his own. God bound himself to us for all eternity by a covenant of everlasting love. And there is no going back on his part. We, however, might waver and yield to the enemy when the darkness overwhelms us. But God decided we are redeemable, and does not discard us for a better brand or a newer model. God is willing to give us do-overs, reboots and second chances. Be watchful and alert. The Lord is coming. He does not ever give up.