1st Sunday of Advent — November 27, 2011
Sr. Carol J. Crater, SHF

Okay, first we need to talk about Sister Jacinta. I was sitting next to her at dinner one night, and she picked up her glass and took a drink. Now, this is not an unusual act at dinner in the dining room. But her glass had a clear liquid in the bottom and a brown liquid in the top. I asked what she was drinking. “Pepsi and 7-Up,” she said. “How did you get them to stay separate like that,” I asked. “I don’t know; it just happens,” she said. “If I fill the glass with ice, and then put in the 7-Up and then put in the Pepsi, they stay separate. But if I put in the Pepsi before the 7-up, then it all mixes together.” Moments of wonder happen when you least expect them!

At some point in my life, I heard of a drink called a pousse-cafe, defined as “a style of layered drink prepared by gently adding each liqueur from densest to least dense in order to create colored stripes when the drink is viewed from the side.” It’s the high-class version of Sister Jacinta’s two-layer mystery beverage. The pousse-cafe, we are told, “is sipped, sometimes through a silver straw, one liqueur at a time. The drink must be created and handled carefully, as the layers created will mix together into a brown sludge if handled roughly,” it says somewhere on the Internet.

Advent this year makes me think of a pousse-cafe. Listen to the news; we hear so much of violence, both in foreign lands and in our own city streets. We hear of dissatisfaction, not only with the economy and the political parties, but with the whole political process. We know people who are ill, people who are dying, people who have recently died. Even our days are getting darker, colder, rainier. Sometimes it seems that we have lost the layers that give our lives variety, and it’s all a brown sludge — kind of like the life described in our first reading today: God so far away, no longer performing awesome deeds as in days of old, the people “all withered like leaves, all our good deeds like polluted rags — our guilt carries us away like the wind.”

And then along comes Advent, with its message of hope, promise and joy. Advent helps us to separate the layers that have been mixed into a brown sludge. Our Gospel reading today can indeed be read as a warning, but it can also be read as a promise: Christ will return, and is in fact already present among us. Whatever pain, whatever sorrow, whatever fear, whatever grief fills those top layers of our lives, down deep within is an abiding joy — not a woo-hoo Pollyanna-type joy that sings, “la-la-la, all’s for the best in this best of all possible worlds.” No, this is a serious adult joy that says, through betrayal, crucifixion, death, and resurrection, “I am with you always.” That’s a little litany we might want to practice: God is with me — all the time. All the time — God is with me.

Have you seen the television ad for Kaiser Permanente where a sad depressed voice asks, “Where did you leave it? Could it be outside? Could the children have taken it? Could it be upstairs under your bed?” The ad is encouraging us to find our motivation to lead healthier lives. I am encouraging us to find our joy, to find that deep joy of God’s abiding presence and love, to separate that out from the brown sludge and to sip from that layer — with a silver straw if you wish, but sip deeply.

Paul the Apostle seems to have that ability to sip deeply from joy. He seems always attuned to the grace of God, to God’s loving presence. In prison, in shipwreck, in suffering, he knows God’s presence, he tastes that deep joy. “God is faithful,” he assures us today, “and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” \

This Son, this Jesus Christ our Lord, is the very One we are told will surely come, in today’s Gospel. Neither Isaiah, nor Paul, nor even Jesus himself found life to be a bed of roses, but they all found joy and meaning in God’s abiding presence. During this Advent season, we tend to sing, “O come, O come, Emmanuel” — but Emmanuel means precisely “God-with-us.” God is already with us, loving us, teaching us God’s ways. This Advent we are going to be singing a lot of songs about joy. May our celebration of Advent this year help us to separate out that layer of deep joy in our lives, and know the peace that Christ alone can give.