When we read, or hear, the beginning words of today’s reading from the first letter of John, “Children, it is the last hour!” (1 Jn 2:18) it may seem to us to be hysterical exaggeration, or a form of romantic hyperbole. On the other hand it could be seen as a summing up of the situation of our world in these days. Someone might ask, “is it the last hour?” I think that most of us do not want to think of the events in the past year or two as signs of the end; earthquakes in Haiti, New Zealand, and Japan; the tsunami and nuclear accident in Japan, typhoons and flooding in the Philippines, wild brush fires in California and Australia, the political upheaval in the Eastern Mediterranean, and the tensions in our own country in these early days of an election year. There have been a number of these “signs”, but most of us don’t want to think of those things as signs of “the last times,” (I’m sure though that there are some people who do think that those things are apocalyptic signs.) The world has been through many similar periods of natural disaster and political, spiritual, and economic tension from almost the earliest times.
The name for this season in the Church year, “Advent,” derives from the Latin, adventus, which means arrival: the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah, the Christ, whom we as Christians know as Jesus. Meanwhile, as we anticipate this arrival, we wait. If we were to open the Gospel accounts according to Matthew and Luke, we discover a great many people waiting for the Messiah, the Christ. Mary is waiting. Joseph is waiting. Zechariah and Elizabeth are waiting. Symeon and Anna are waiting. Most everyone, it seems, is waiting. They’re waiting for an arrival. There are also shepherds who are waiting. There are some sages from the east – wisemen – who are waiting. The threatened government of Herod the Tetrarch is waiting, rather anxiously. The only persons who are not waiting are in Bethlehem, the keepers of an inn. And there’s no room in the inn. They’re all full up. It is nigh unto impossible to wait if you are full up, because waiting takes space; to be able to wait requires an emptiness. And that’s a problem. I think it’s problematic for many of us who live in North America.