Sunday, November 30, 2008

It's About Time

This is Mr. Weber's address to the JPII student body on Monday, December 1, 2008

In the early 1980’s, Domino’s Pizza was the first American corporation to deliver food directly to your house. They marketed themselves with the promise, “If we don’t deliver your pizza within 30 minutes of your order, you get the whole pizza free”. I had a good friend at Notre Dame who lived in the most remote dorm on campus, a good mile away from my dorm, and being poor college students, we would often synchronize our watches and order pizza at the exact same time from the local Domino’s pizza store. Since they did not allow cars on campus, it was physically impossible for the pizza delivery boy to get both pizzas to us within 30 minutes, and depending on which dorm he chose to deliver to first, one of us always got a free pizza—every time.

Since the early 1970’s, the food delivery service, and in fact, fast food service in general, has exploded in growth, from a 6 billion/year enterprise in 1970 to 110 billion by 2000. Whereas before, families (typically, the mother) would go to the grocery store to purchase the raw ingredients, then prepare the meal, then cook the meal in the oven, then serve, then sit down together as a family, today that is most uncommon—the typical American family eats out 4-5 times week, and on the other days, we nuke a ready made dinner in the microwave and serve it on the go. We even expect our fast food stores to be faster, adding drive-through windows, so we don’t have to get out of the car and stand in line, and yet, if you’re like me, if the drive through line isn’t moving fast enough after I order, I become impatient and leave before I get to the window.

We are, in fact, an impatient society. Instead of saving money for a big purchase, we buy on credit with money that we don’t have. The average family will add $1,000 to their credit card balances this Christmas, despite the fact that 12 million card-holders haven’t paid off their balances from last Christmas. The economic crisis we’re experiencing now is fueled largely by the fact that we have purchased houses that are more than we can afford, enticed by once ridiculously low variable interest rates which have now varied upward, making it impossible for many to make their monthly payments, causing them to forfeit their houses, leaving banks with many properties they cannot unload.

A society that seeks instant gratification is a society that has a problem with waiting. And yet, as we begin this first week of Advent, a time when we prepare for the coming of Christ, we are reminded that waiting is a good thing, a necessary thing.

We read an interesting reading this Sunday in church, from the prophet Isaiah. At the time Isaiah wrote, near the end of the Babylonian exile, the ancient faith of Abraham, Moses, David and Solomon was perilously close to being extinguished. In 586 B.C., the Babylonian king marched into Jerusalem, easily defeating the Israelite armies, and destroyed the Temple built by Solomon almost 400 years earlier—a terrible sacrilege. He then added to their horror by selling Jewish families into slavery, deliberately splitting families by sending mothers and fathers to different regions than their daughters and sons. They were now far away from the land 'flowing with milk and honey' promised to them during the exodus from Egypt, some 700 years earlier with Moses. The power of the Lord, revealed during the crossing of the Red Sea, the miracles in the desert, the battle of Jericho and all the great works of the Lord from the past seemed like children's fables. They were losing faith and losing hope. Into this desperate situation, Isaiah cries to God:

You, LORD, are our father, our redeemer you are named forever.

Why then, do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?

Return for the sake of your servants! 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.
(Isaiah 63:16b-17)

In other words, come down, Lord and work your miracles of old, so that our enemies will be vanquished, our spirits will be rejuvenated and Israel can be restored. We are your people, doesn’t that matter to you? We’re tired of being trampled upon and we’re losing faith in you. Send us a savior. We cannot wait any longer.

This is the ancient cry of the Israelite people, and it is the cry of all Christians as we enter into this Advent season. Like the Israelites during the exile, our world is out of wack. Many of you heard about the Wal-mart employee who was trampled to death by 2000 shoppers who busted down the doors on the Friday after this Thanksgiving at 5 a.m. When the shoppers were told the store was closing because of the death, they were angry, claiming they had been there since late Thursday night in line, and when forced to leave, they lined up around the crime tape, impatiently waiting for the store to re-open. Our world is sick with greed, with self-centeredness, with excess. We are in need of someone to save us--mostly from ourselves.

And yet, like the Israelites, we must wait. From the time of Isaiah’s prophecies, the Jewish people had to wait over 500 years for their long hoped for Messiah, and he came in such an unexpected, unrecognizable form, that many of them did not realize their savior was among them.

During this Advent season, in which we symbolically re-enact this waiting of the Jewish people for the messiah to be born, may we use this time to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Messiah, so that we can better recognize his presence in all those we meet. May we use this time to seek forgiveness for those whom we’ve hurt and forgive those who have hurt us. Let us use this time to become a little less cynical, a little less judgmental, a little more patient, so that we can welcome Christ more fully together at Christmas.

This Advent, it’s about time.

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