Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Spirit of Vigilance

(1st Sunday of Advent, C)

I love the first Sunday of Advent, because it’s one of those ‘cognitive dissonance’ days in the liturgy. We have the giddy joy of starting this new year—the year of our salvation 2010—and as we arrive at Mass the church looks different for the first time in a while. We’ve all absorbed the catechetical sound bite about how Advent is the time to ‘prepare for Christmas’ and we’re ready for this ramp-up to that sweetest of Christian solemnities. And so we settle down here for Mass, ready to begin ‘preparing ourselves for Christmas,’ and we hear a very different kind of word in the readings: The Gospel warns us that in “anticipation of what is coming upon the world,” “people will die of fright” and “on earth nations will be in dismay.”

What gives? Christmas may mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but for most I don’t think it involves people dying of fright or nations being in dismay. Here we see the twofold meaning of the Advent season: Yes, it is a time when we prepare to recall the dawn of our salvation in the Incarnation of the Word of God, the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, but Advent is also a time when we look forward to the return of the Lord in glory, to the destiny and end of the world. To hope for and anticipate the return of Jesus Christ at the end of time is a permanent and ordinary part of our Christian faith, and we recall this to ourselves in every single Mass in the prayer after the Our Father: “…as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ.”

That spirit of waiting “in joyful hope” is at the core of this special season. We are joyful as we recall the mysteries of the Lord’s Nativity, and we are hopeful as we look forward to his return. The Advent season as the privileged time to meditate on the “in between-ness” of our existence; we are those pilgrims on the earth who live in between the inauguration of the new creation in the birth of the New Adam and before the final fulfillment and destiny of creation at the end of time.

As we enter into this time of looking both back and forward from our place in between, the readings we hear today help us to learn the spirituality appropriate to this season. St. Paul exhorts to “conduct” ourselves “to please God.” In the gospel we are similarly invited by Jesus to beware that our “hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life” so that we are not rudely surprised by the day of the Lord when it comes. To me this is very appropriate spiritual advice for this time of year; on the one hand there are a lot of parties to attend and we must be careful that the festivities do not distract us from our spiritual vigilance, our waiting on the Lord. On the other hand, it’s also a time of year when the anxiety of this life weighs heavily on a lot of people, and to hope in the Lord is the soothing remedy.

This spirit of vigilance, of waiting on the Lord, is the spirit we cultivate and protect in these days of Advent. The season of Advent reveals to us a God who is just that, adventitious. Our is a God who is arriving in the world: his obscure birth in poverty is a mystery played out at every celebration of the Eucharist, as God in Christ is just dying—literally—to make a home and be born anew into each our lives in Holy Communion. In these days, let us await the coming of the Lord with joyful vigilance, until the fullness of his Kingdom is revealed “at the coming of the Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.”

1 comment:

4narnia said...

great homily for the first Sunday of Advent, Fr. C! thank you so much for your inspiration! i especially like what you say in the last paragraph of your homily: "This spirit of vigilance, of waiting on the Lord, is the spirit we cultivate and protect in these days of Advent." this part of your homily reminds us that we have to do exactly that: cultivate and protect our faith, hope and love for God and others and not get all caught up in the materialism of the world. it is so important to continue to pray and reflect and prepare for the coming of our Lord Jesus in these weeks of Advent. PEACE! ~tara t~