2004—First Sunday of Advent—A
Today Jesus tells us to "Stay awake." "Be prepared." St. Paul tells us that this is "the hour to awake from sleep." At any moment Christ could come breaking into our lives. Advent is the season that helps us to be ready for Christ's coming. Advent gives us a fresh start, a new resolve, a time to shape up and recommit ourselves to lives of Christian discipleship.
Stay Awake. Be prepared. If we go through life sleepwalking we might be caught unaware, like the people outside the ark at the time of the great flood. Noah was certainly not a sleepwalker. Noah was wide awake. He was prepared. His neighbors thought him a fool, but Noah was prepared to meet the Lord. Perhaps our neighbors will think us fools for using valuable time during the Advent season to pray or to do loving acts of service. Perhaps our neighbors will think us fools for not buying into the shopping frenzy of our American consumerist culture. Perhaps our neighbors will think us fools for being Catholic . . . for beginning yet another liturgical year with the hope that the Catholic Church can ever be credible after the scandals and turmoil of the past several years. And yet here we are, still in the church, gathered together in faith and hope at the beginning of another liturgical year. Like Noah we have faith. With Noah we are in the ark, waiting in faith. Like Noah, we want to be prepared, and we want to stay awake, to be ready for Christ's arrival, for the coming of the light into the dark corners of our lives. Perhaps Christ will come with the force of a torrential down pour. Or perhaps Christ will come gently like the scattered raindrops of a light shower. However Christ comes this year we will be ready. We will be awake, and we will be prepared to welcome his presence into our lives, especially in the darkness that weighs so heavily on our spirits.
Today we light our first Advent candle. We put on our purple traveling clothes and chart our course for these four weeks until Christmas . . . four weeks of traveling through the darkness toward the dawning light of Christmas day. Perhaps the darkness we travel through this year is the grief we still feel over the death of a loved one, or the ending of a friendship, or the closing of our parish home. Perhaps we travel through the darkness of a lingering illness, or a conflict at work, a division with the family, or a scandal within our church. We begin this Advent journey in our own personal and communal darkness, longing for the light, longing for a new beginning, longing for the return of JOY. As we travel through the darkness it's important to stay focused on the light, focused on that star that pierces the darkness and leads us home to the place where new life awaits us. If Christmas is all about being "home for the holidays," then Advent is about traveling home. It's about staying awake and alert during the journey home so that we don't miss the exit off the highway. It's about staying alert so that we don't go driving on, the wrong way, deeper and deeper into the darkness.
Our first reading from the prophet Isaiah is an image of the end of our Advent journey. It's a magical image of the nations streaming toward the mountain of God. They've all made it home safely through the night, and now the sun is rising high in the sky. From my office window here at the rectory I have a great view of the intersection at Commonwealth Ave. On Sunday, as I sit at my computer preparing my homilies for the week, I often look out the window a few minutes before the next mass begins. It's a great bird's eye view of a sight similar to the one described by Isaiah in our first reading: A few minutes before each mass I watch people "streaming" into the church. They come from all directions -some from the green line T stop, some from the B.C. dorms, some from the Dunkin' Donuts across the street, some from the various parking lots around the campus. It's a beautiful image of God's people streaming into the church from all directions, streaming up to this mountain of God. I like to imagine the delight that God feels as all of God's children come streaming in to be "instructed in the ways of peace," and to "beat their swords into ploughshares, their spears into pruning hooks." Each Sunday that we assemble here in this church is a glimpse of that day described by Isaiah. Likewise, each Advent season is a glimpse of the larger journey that is our life of traveling home to the mountain of God.
It helps us to ritualize this journey each year through the symbols and traditions of Advent. Advent helps us to stay awake, to be prepared. It helps us to name the deep longing within each of us, the deep longing for the peace, light, and joy of our home in God. And so together, today, we embark on this Advent journey. Let us help each other to stay awake and be alert. Let us "go rejoicing to the house of the Lord." Let us walk together this season "in the light of the Lord."