When I was a small boy in Ireland my parents would take us to our grandfather’s farm near Castlecomer in County Kilkenny. On the farm there was a hired man whose name was John Brennan. John lived in a thatched cottage about half a mile away. In the evening after the cows were milked, he would sit on a large flat stone outside the stable door and smoke a stained clay pipe. Sometimes I would sit beside him and he would tell me stories.
People who introduce themselves as bearing a message from God do not commend themselves to us easily. If we do turn an ear to them out of curiosity, or perhaps out of an amused and sometimes horrified fascination, they tend to wear out their welcome quickly. We have learned only too well that such self-styled messengers of God can carry out deeds of unimaginable ferocity in the name of their particular vision of God.
Why are you and I offered this wonderful performance on this Advent Sunday? Because although it may be winter in the realm of nature, it is springtime in the realm of the spirit and of our Christian hearts. We are not far from the fields and caves of Bethlehem. But before we come to them, we need to know that every one of these songs was sung in spite of the times. Knowing this, it is salutary to look once again at the extraordinary joy that bubbles forth.
Jesus calls us to live with the intensity of last days while living our regular lives. He reminds us that we are not ultimately invested in this world, and he liberates us to work with courage, with hope. End times call for tall towers of hope. They call for a lightning-speed reordering of priorities. End times call for alertness, sharpness. They tingle with expectation.
One of these All Saints Days our names will be read. We are the potential saints for future generations. We are the shoulders on which others will stand. Will we be ancestors who sat on their hands or ancestors who raised their hands? Sometimes we forget that we aren’t just living our busy lives. We’re also laying a foundation, molding a future and establishing a legacy. How is it going?