I doubt there were many in America who were not paying attention to the growing. Power Ball jackpot this past Wednesday as the grand prize grew close to being $600, 000,000. It was as if you could not avoid being brought into the frenzy as every news program, both local and national, focused on the growing phenomenon. On Channel 9 News, math professors from OCC were enlisted to explain that our chances of winning were 1 in 175,000,000, and yet, as one professor stated, someone has to win, and so he bought a ticket.
I cannot say Power Ball fever did not hit the Rectory. Chelsea excitedly bought her tickets promising her parents she would share a portion of her winnings while researching what her take home would be after taxes. Once there was a time when visions of sugar plums danced in her head this time of year. Now, however, with Power Ball Fever, what danced in her head were visions of cars, music school and a debt free life.
Maureen and I were not immune to the fever either. Yes, like millions of other Americans, we too bought a couple of tickets. Deep down, we knew we would never win. But that did not stop us from dreaming either, as we talked about what the money could do for our daughters, the travel we would like to do, but most of all, all the good we could do with it as we thought about donating large sums to our alma maters, St. Luke’s and other local charities. I have to admit, it was wonderful to live the dream of being a multimillionaire for a few short hours as we envisioned the life we could lead… if only we had the magic tickets.
For the most part this is what playing the lottery is really about. When Maureen and I first got married we would often buy tickets when the Connecticut lottery became quite large. I remember my ever pragmatic grandfather lamenting our decision to ”waste” our limited resources on lottery tickets. To this I would often counter that buying lottery tickets was not about winning, but the hours of entertainment they provided dreaming of what could be.
This week, a new opportunity for dreaming has arrived. As we enter the season of Advent,once again we are invited to delve into the religious imagination and picture what the reign of God may look like. While I doubt this Advent season will bring on the frenzy of hope Power Ball did last week, the good news is, with the reign of God, the grand prize is for everyone and not just the few lucky ones.
It is hard for us to imagine all of creation being restored to what God intended at the time of Genesis. It’s difficult for us to imagine the world filled with holy innocence similar to that of Adam and Eve. As Central New Yorkers, now entering the long stretch of grey winter skies, we can appreciate John of Patmos’ vision of the New Jerusalem as a place were there is no darkness, for the light of God fills every corner. John also tells us it will be a time when there is no sorrow or grief. It will be a time without war, or hunger, or illness. It will be the time when, as Isaiah predicts, the lion will lie down with the lamb.
But first we are told there will be growing pains. In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus tells us nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, writes to provide comfort and assurance as the church in that area is undergoing persecution. In his letter, St. Paul refers his readers back to the words of Christ with the following statement. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”
St. Paul does not end his thoughts of comfort here, instead, he continues with what could be the guiding words of Advent. ” For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
The season of Advent is about looking forward in hope even though we are living in the midst of growing pains. Advent is about living within the growing pains of the civil wars that plague many parts of the world; the natural disasters that have left thousands in this country without homes; the religious battles between Christians and Moslems, and/or the more local crises that effect each of us every day such as illness, unemployment and even grief itself. LIke those of us who got caught up in the frenzy of this week’s Power Ball jackpot, we are called to spend these next four weeks leaving the ills of the present world behind us and to live as if the reign of God has come. We are challenged to hope in what we cannot see and to look for the signs of the reign of God that are now present.
Diana Butler- Bass in her book, Christianity after Religion, tells us, she can see signs throughout the ages of the world moving towards the Reign of God. In many ways, she says, the movement of creation towards the reign of God has come in the waves of great awakenings. Today, she writes, we are in the midst of the fourth great awakening in the United States. This awakening began in the 1960’s, to some extent it was side-lined by the religious conservatism that took root in the late 70’s, but since the late 90’s it has begun to move forward again. This fourth awakening is one she has described as an interfaith awakening. This is a time in the spiritual history of the United States when the plurality of faiths in this country are moving towards becoming an integrated whole. Diana describes what she is talking about with the following story.
As the end of Lent neared in 2011, I went to my local bank to deposit some checks. Three tellers were working that morning, all women. One woman wore a pale ivory hijab as a head covering; the second woman’s forehead bore the dark read mark known as a bindi; the third woman had a small crucifix hanging around her neck.
I walked up and laughed. “You all look like the United Nations of banking!”
They exchanged glances and smiled.
“You are so right,” said the Hindu woman. ” You should meet our customers! But we cover a lot of languages between the three of us.”
It was a quiet morning. They wanted to talk. I said something about being vegetarian for Lent. The Hindu woman wanted to give me some family recipes; the Muslim woman wanted to know more about Christian fasting practices (the Catholic woman was, by now, on the phone in another office).
I shared how we had dedicated Lent that year to eating simply and exploring vegetarian foods from different parts of the world. “when we eat Indian food, ” I explained, “we try to talk about the church in India or pray for people in India. The same for African and Asian and Latin American Countries.”
“What a wonderful idea!” the Muslim woman said. ” We need to love our traditions and be faithful to our God; but we teach the beauty and goodness of the other religions too.”
Her Hindu colleague chimed in, “That is the only way to peace is be ourselves and to create understanding between all people.”
For the next few minutes, they shared how much they appreciated living in Virginia, where they had found religious freedom. “Here it is like Thomas Jefferson promised,”the Muslim woman said. “Very good. People here are very tolerant, curious about different religions. Much better than other places . Here there is real respect. I can be a good Muslim here.”
I glanced at my watch. I needed to get to an appointment. I thanked them for their insights.
“I would wish you a Happy Easter,” I said hoping they would hear the sincerity in my voice,” but, instead, I wish you both peace.”
I started to walk away when the Muslim teller said to me,”Peace of Jesus the Prophet. And a very happy Easter to you.”
And the Hindu woman called out, ” Happy Easter!”
When I reached my car, I realized that I was crying. I had only rarely felt the power of the resurrected Jesus so completely in my soul. (p241)
A glimpse of the Reign of God, a glimpse of the hope of Advent . . the hope we all share. . .and wait for.