Father Donald Senior, CP

Dec. 2: First Sunday of Advent

November 20, 2018

No drowsy hearts

Jer 33:14-16; Ps 25:4-5, 8-9, 10 14; 1 Thes 3:12-4:2; Lk 21:25-28, 34-36

Advent, the season of longing and hope, is upon us.

There are several dimensions to this liturgical season. One, of course, is preparing for the feast of Christmas, readying ourselves spiritually to celebrate the central mystery of our Christian faith that God so loved the world that he sent his only son to become one of us — the Word made flesh. 

Even with the thick layer of commerce that often obscures the meaning of Christmas in our culture, the joy of this astounding conviction still shines through. God’s tender love for us made visible in a vulnerable infant, entrusted to the care of human parents, taking up a history like our own. 

Advent is a time to find some moments to reflect on and savor the astounding beauty of our faith in the Incarnation.

There is another focus of our waiting and longing that defines this season — the belief that the ultimate destiny of humanity itself and our created world in which we exist is in the hands of a loving God. We await the second coming of our redeemer.  

This motif, in fact, dominates the Scripture readings for the Advent season. The Christ who died and is now risen in triumph will come to take us all home. In the words of the great medieval mystic Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

Advent encourages us to have a robust hope in the future — our personal future and our world’s future. Jesus urges his disciples in the Gospel passage from Luke that is read today “stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”

Finally, this season is meant to hone our spiritual instincts here and now—to make us alert to the inbreaking of God’s grace in our everyday lives. We can savor the opportunities we have to show others kindness and respect. We can show strength to hold in check our anger when someone cuts us off in the pressure of the rush hour. We can learn from the examples we witness of other people’s utter goodness and generosity who give what they have to a panhandler we are tempted to avoid. 

All of these are what Pope Francis has called the “small gestures” that offset the inclinations to selfishness and even violence by acts of forgiving love that help build “a civilization of love.” 

One of the virtues emphasized in the New Testament passages about the future is that of “staying awake” or “being alert.” At the conclusion of today’s Gospel selection, Jesus tell his disciples: “Be vigilant at all times.” Literally, the word used is “stay awake.” 

Advent is a time to make us more spiritually alert. Earlier in the same passage, Jesus uses another metaphor about staying awake: “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day (of Christ’s coming) catch you by surprise like a trap.”

We can become so absorbed in our everyday anxieties or spiritually anesthetized by self-indulgence in material things — our phones, our food and drink, our entertainment, our clothing — that we can fail to take time for reflection about our inner lives, about the need to deepen our spiritual lives, about confronting some of the habits we need to leave behind in order to lead a deeper and more humane life, about giving more time and attention to the people closest to us.

The Scriptures for today remind us that Advent is not so much a time of penance but of alertness and new beginnings. It is a time to shake off our spiritual drowsiness and plunge deeper in the mystery of our lives. 

This is what Paul urges for his Christians in Thessalonica, the second reading for today: “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all … so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. Amen.”


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