The Journey of Advent

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Authors Note:  This past month I got the flu.  As a result, I was laid up for two weeks.  So, I gathered up my notes for my homilies and prepared this for the entire season.

An Advent Reflection 2017

          Every Advent Season is different from year-to-year.  They are as different as our lives are from year-to-year.  When we were kids, the season couldn’t get done soon enough so we can get to Christmas.  As we get older, we wish Advent would go longer in order for us to get ready for Christmas.  Yet as we age, the Advent Season allows us to place our focus upon the great feast that we know as Christmas.  As the years go on our view of Advent may change, but the Stages of Advent in which we progress are constant and bring special meaning for us as we begin this new Liturgical Year.  And for us in this Diocese, it can be a preparation for us as we are standing upon the threshold of a new way to spread the Good News to each other and to the world.

The first constant is that Advent is a season of Anticipation. While we look into the empty space in front of us longing for Christmas to arrive, we hear the voice of the Prophet Isaiah in our ears as to why we as Children of God have waited, are waiting and will be waiting for the Messiah to come.[1]  Little is known about Isaiah historically.  His name means “God is salvation.”  He was probably a Priest of the Temple living in the Southern Kingdom of Judah.  During his time, the Jews were living as a cultural society, meaning that their recognition of God’s people was more of a societal and political community, not a religious one.  They still celebrated the feasts, but the meaning of them were either lost or replaced or given less emphasis in their lives.

Isaiah observes the crisis of God’s children and cries out to God for His help.  Yet he cannot understand why God let them stop believing in Him.  Why did God allow them to go on in their lives without letting Him enter their hearts?  Even when they would do something that would please God, their actions would be “as polluted rags.”  Isaiah saw how much the Jews needed God and how much God needed the Jews.  It would take something extraordinary for them to return to each other. That extraordinary event was the coming of the Messiah.

It was this moment of anticipation that caused Isaiah (and the Jews) to be in the position that they were in. They had been waiting for their Messiah for centuries, but for one reason or another, their anticipation for him had taken the extremes of the spectrum.  On the one end are those who want to return to God but do so in a way that unless their entire focus is on God, then they panic that they cannot be ready for the coming of the Messiah.  As a result, their behavior toward themselves and others disintegrates into a narcissistic view on life.  They have a “tunnel vision” faith.  On the other end are those who, like in Isaiah’s day, are more focused on their world that their focus on the Messiah’s arrival is placed on the back burner.  They were Jews in name but not in faith.  Their anticipation needed to be re-focused back to the moment where the Messiah can come ready to bring the Chosen Ones closer to Paradise.

To be in a state of anticipation, we should have done all we can to get ourselves ready for their arrival.  We look at our surroundings, see what is good, clean up what is not and get rid of those things that will get in the way.  As many expectant parents can attest, sometime around the third trimester the mother will experience an urge called “nesting.”  This is a desire to have every space in the house clean and orderly for the arrival of the new baby.  When they get older, every August begins preparing them for the new school year by getting new clothes and supplies so they will do well that year.  When they get older still, a boy will ask a girl to the Prom.  He gets the tux, the corsage, cleans his car and makes the dinner reservations to make sure this will be a memorable night.  What they all have in common is that they were engaged in the act of Preparation.  When he hear the words of Isaiah on the Second Sunday[2], he is giving us the means by which we should prepare for the Messiah.  It is a call so important that Handel uses it to begin his Oratorio “Messiah.”  “Give comfort to my people says you God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim that her service is at an end.”  This is the command from God to begin the healing of Jerusalem.  Even Isaiah becomes a bystander to this act.  Once the healing has begun, then the path for the Messiah is prepared for his arrival.  “Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!  Every valley filled in, every mountain and hill made low; the rugged land to be made plain.”  In other words, all that is the way will be cleared out of the way for the Messiah to enter without any difficulty.

If Isaiah is the bystander, then who was charged with this mission?  As the Gospel proclaimed, it was John the Baptist, a member of the Priestly class, who left his position to live in the desert eating locusts and wild honey, to be the voice in the wilderness[3].  How did he achieve this mission?  He saw that the practice of Baptism for the forgiveness of sins was the best way.  It was the Preparation of the soul, not of the land, that John saw as the way of the Lord.  It is a practice that continues to this day whenever we actively take part in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the act that brings us closer to the point in which we received our Baptism.  We connect to John the Baptist’s disciples because we prepare our souls in anticipation for the coming of the Messiah.

To be in the states of Preparation and Anticipation allow us to get rid of all our issues that keep us from welcoming him.  Yet we need some sort of reason for all this work.  We need some hint as to why all this work is important.  We look for it, seeing all sorts of possibilities, but none seem right.  When the Priests and Levites went to John to find out if he was the one, he told them there would be someone after him; one who has yet to reveal himself; one who will be the one to save them.[4] If they had been like those who had followed John, the preparation of the Priests and Levites would have been focused on someone else.

Had they looked closer, they would have seen a young girl, a virgin, who as a faithful Jew was in anticipation for the coming Messiah.  But unlike her fellow Jews, she had already been prepared… by God Himself.  When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, he addressed her as “Full of Grace.” [5] This was not a description; it was a title of her position in Salvation History.  She was already in a position to accept the Messiah because she was the one chosen by God.  When the world looks for salvation in glitter and glitz, God sends his Magnificence in the simplest of vessels.

Here is a question for you?  When God plans to find a place to live, or send his son to earth or schedule his return, would he let someone on earth to make his plans for Him or would he decide these things on his own?  The 2nd Book of Samuel relates a story about King David wanting to build a place for the Ark of the Covenant.[6]  It sounded like a good idea.  Even the Prophet Nathan, advisor to the King, told him to go ahead because God will be behind his work.  So David had no reason to think that what he was going was against God’s wishes.

And yet it is in those times that we are reminded of one very important point:  God is God and we are not.  As God told David via Nathan, since He was the one who brought them out of Egypt, destroyed their enemies and gave them a land in which to settle, He will let them know where He will reside.  “I will fix a place for my people Israel; I will plant them so that they may dwell in their place…I will give you rest…and will establish a house for you.”  Despite His insistence on deciding where He will reside, God assures David of his legacy.  “When your time comes,” God tells him, “and you will rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your heir, sprung from your loins and make his Kingdom firm.  When we plan for God, the plans fall short.  When we let God make the plans, then they come to fruition.  Again we have to remember:  God is God and we are not.  It is all a matter of Identification.

This Advent Season is a special time for us in this diocese (Springfield, IL).  At the conclusion of this Synod year, the delegates had recommended a new perspective in how the faith is to be presented to the faithful, particularly in procedure and practice.  Much like the Jews who were living in Jerusalem during the time of Isaiah, we have been living in an era when our holidays are more social events rather than religious observances.  But when society looks at holidays as a chance for increased revenue but not as a day of rest, it makes sense for the meanings of holidays to be put on the back burner.

In order to bring us back to a mindset of anticipation, the focus will be on what has been referred to as the “4 ‘pillars’” of Discipleship and Stewardship:  Hospitality, Prayer, Formation and Service.”  To help those who are preparing for  their exploration into the faith, namely the youth of the diocese, the Sacraments of Initiation that were given to them from birth would be given the same way that those who have come into the Church from another Faith Tradition through the RCIA program.  In other words, the sacraments will be given to the children with Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist by the time they have reached 3rd grade.  This has been called a “Restoration” but I do not believe there is anyone alive today to recall the sacraments being offered in this way. Not around here, anyway. So, I would just refer this change as a “Re-connection” with the Early Church in bringing people into the faith.

Since Confirmation will be done earlier than we are accustomed, there is a fear that once these Sacraments are received, those who receive them will slowly walk away like it is observed in high school and college age people.   This is where our actions as the mature faithful will need to be more deliberate.  Like those who come into the faith through RCIA (and even in marriage), we have to show that reception of the sacraments is not an end of our learning and practicing of the faith.  On the contrary, these Sacraments are the starting point of our witness of faith to the world. Granted these changes will not take place immediately.  But one thing that we have had to remember and will remember as we go forward. The faith is not like a school year or a sports season.  There is no vacation from God.  Let this Advent season enable us to anticipate our renewal of the faith through our preparation of the coming of the Messiah.  Then the words of Isaiah will be our starting point for the renewal of the faith that is within each of us.  “Comfort ye, my people.  Prepare the way of the Lord.  Make straight in the desert, a highway for our God.”

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

 

 

[1] Is 63:16-17,19: 64:2-7

[2] Is. 40:1-5,9-11

[3] Mk. 1:1-8

[4] Jn. 1:6-8, 19-28

[5] Lk.1:26-38

[6] 2Sam. 7:1-5,8-12, 14,16

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