We begin the new liturgical year this weekend. We begin with a revised translation of many prayers within the liturgy. We begin with singing new translations of some of the usual songs. We have been preparing for the new and it will take some “getting over it.” We priests and deacons are having the same customizing-problems as everybody else in the congregation. Let’s, together, hang on to the new “Pew Cards” and the new Coming of the always-now Jesus.
We begin the longest Advent season possible; we actually have four full weeks so there is no reason for us not to be prepared for the great celebration of God’s becoming earthly. The more there is of the pre-Christmas jingle, the more we pray for freedom from the commercial jangle. We have time and we need time for our spiritualities to catch up with our “heckticities”.
The important prayer of this season is the coming-to-awareness of our need for a Savior. We pray for a greater sense of awareness and alertness to all the various ways God is trying to enter our world and our individual lives. Christ’s coming is an always event, but during this liturgical season we are invited to take time for ourselves to whom He comes.
In the First Reading Israel makes some dramatic statements: some are pleas, some chide God, and some are humble reflections on their own guilt and shame. When all is said, much is needed to be done.
Israel experiences itself as distant from God and pleads that God would look down from heaven and come right down here and change our behavior.
There is a hint that it is actually God’s fault that Israel has wandered away and been so sinful. If God were closer, Israel would be better. And for all their mild and prayerful complaining, the Prophet Isaiah does recall the name of God in Israel is “Abba” and “Potter”. Israel, who was created as God’s people, now admits it needs to be refashioned, renamed and recreated.
There is a strong sense of longing to belong again in this reading. There are some pitiful cries for God to not seem so far away, but return to the intimacy of ages past. Our human condition is equally scattered and we’re quite unsure to what or whom we belong. Our personal prayer is that of all humanity as well, “Why do you let us wander?” “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down.”
The Gospel is a section from Mark’s lead-up to Christ’s Passion. The entire chapter deals with the ending of things. For all the images of coming disasters possible, Jesus is exhorting His followers to states of readiness: “Be watchful. Be alert.” “Watch!” These are strong words which catch the ear of His disciples. They are also words by which Jesus Himself has lived His personal mission of redeeming this world. Awareness can be a function of fear, but also of love. If being redeemed is our final end and if Jesus’ mission was to redeem us and bring us all back to the Hands of the “potter” - the Creator - then fear of His coming is not the final disaster, but the final revelation of God’s creative love.
Jesus uses a little image which is important, but can be easily overlooked. Jesus uses the image of a land owner who goes on a journey, but leaves his servants, “each with his own work” to do. The challenge is not just to stay awake, but awake so as to do the work of bringing light and life to God’s world. Waiting and watching out of fear is passive and paralyzing. Waiting in faith is eager and exciting. We can wait expecting to be caught, or expecting to be caught up in our part in His coming into this world.
Now that I admit to being a bit older, I am waiting more actively for Christmas and enjoying Advent more. As a younger person Advent was easily endured, because I had my eyes on the prizes of Christmas underneath the largest Christmas tree my father could convince my mother to allow in the house. Emptiness in our living room was replaced with branches whose fullness promised completion. Darkness was replaced by as many lights as our electrical system would permit. Silence was moved out by carols and stories of the old times. We kids enjoyed it all of course, but it was all about having and waiting for more.
I sound like an old fuddy now, but what I ask of Christmas has changed and the days bringing Christmas to me are different. There is the song from the musical play, Mame, whose main line is, “We need a little Christmas, right this very minute”. Before I need Christmas, I need a little emptiness, darkness and silence. These Advent days do get busier, packed, brighter and louder. What I need is some sense that I need an experience of being redeemed, recreated, renamed, and reborn. I would like to be more watchful and alert to how loved I am and how many ways there are to bring Christ to life in the world around me.
In the next three Daily Reflections for the Sundays of this Advent, I hope to prayerfully share about these three Advent graces: vacancy, darkenings, and stillness. I would wish not to fill these pages and the minds of the readers, nor give brilliant illuminations, nor clamorous words and images. I do begin with my invitation to myself about just what kind of Christmas am I waiting for this year. So stay awake, alert and watchful for what’s coming and who’s coming next.
“The Lord will shower his gifts, and our land will yield its fruit.” Ps. 85,13
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