On this First Sunday of Advent we hear the prophet Isaiah calling us to climb to the top of the mountain and look for the Lord’s advent, the Lord’s coming into our lives. At the end of this first reading when we hear Isaiah cry out, “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” We need to understand that Isaiah isn’t simply talking about nature’s daylight and nighttime’s darkness, he is talking about what we see with our minds and hearts. He’s calling us to rise above our daily worries, concerns and anxieties in order to take a look over the whole of our lives with all of their peaks and valleys. As Christians we do that in the vision of Christ, the Light of the World, God’s gift to us.
The problem you and I face comes not from the fact that we are unconcerned or apathetic or lazy. The problem you and I have is that we’re far too concerned about so many other things. Often these are legitimate concerns, worries that are thrust upon us by the world in which we live. We are so caught up in all of the events of our days that we do not pay attention to our souls, our inner spirits, and our inner selves. This spiritual blindness is spoken of in biblical language as darkness. And what do we do in darkness? Usually we sleep. We sleep because we shut down, tune out, and turn off.
When we, through accident, through chance, or some other unexpected event, become aware of God’s activity in our lives, we suddenly pay attention — we wake up. And in that moment of waking up we likely think that God’s coming to us is sudden, unexpected, startling. God has, however, always been there. He is actively present to us all of the time, each and every day. It’s our awareness of Him that has changed. God hasn’t changed in the slightest way. He is constant; He is always present. It is we who are inconstant, changeable and inattentive.
We often speak of Advent as being a season of time in which we prepare for the Lord’s coming into our lives. Perhaps we should see it as a season of heightened awareness, for the truth is that we should be looking for God already at work in our lives every day. God is always offering Himself to us. We, however, are not always responding because we’re not paying attention. Advent is a time to conscientiously, deliberately, and with awareness respond to His offer of Himself to us. We have to “see the Light,” so to speak.
It’s all a matter of seeing eternity in every season of our lives. It’s all a matter of paying attention to God’s presence to us in our lives as children, as teens, as young adults, in our middle age, and in the final seasons of our lives when we mirror the time when the leaves fall from their branches and the world goes to sleep under a blanket of snow. In each of those seasons of our lives God’s ever-present and everlasting love can break in upon us. We all, each one of us, feel it to be unexpected. But what is so unexpected about it? Why should we be surprised? God is always calling us to climb to the top of the mountain, look for His coming, and take a look over the broad range of our lives.
Our lives are cluttered with too many things demanding our attention, draining us of our energies, and blinding us to the big picture. Money only goes so far. Technology can only do so much. Medicines have a short shelf life. All of our human resources are limited. Only God has what we need. He has all that we need in an inexhaustible supply.
Can we look ahead? Yes, we can… if we take the time and make the space to do so. Can we trace the writing of God’s finger as He sends us His messages? We can. Can we seize the opportunity to make time during Advent to come to some daily Advent Masses? Attend Communal Penance Services? Read from the bible? Spend extra time in thoughtful reflection and quiet prayer? We can. But that is not the issue. The big question is not what we can do – it’s what we will do. It’s our will that is controlling, not our wishes.
We live in the time after the arrival of the year 2000 A.D. Do you remember our worries when the year 2000 A.D. arrived and we were told that our computers were not programmed for those digits and might shut themselves down and everything with them? We also live in the time after September 11th. We live in an age of terrorism. We live in an economic mess. We live with a lot of emotional anxieties. We would do well to ask ourselves the question: “Where is God in all of this?” and then seriously, during this Advent, pursue answers to that question. For questions are not denials, they are quests. And God always wants to be sought. All lovers do.
As your teachers taught you in school, the Greek philosopher Plato (who lived four hundred years before Christ) declared, “The life which is unexamined is not worth living.” Every Advent, and indeed every time we come here to Mass, Holy Mother Church bids us to examine our lives. As a priest I have always had that purpose in mind every time I’ve preached homilies over the past forty years.
Once again we enter into and begin our journey through Advent, hopefully looking for the coming of the Lord into our lives. And so I repeat to you the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Romans, remembering that the Romans back in those days lived in a culture not altogether different from the one in which we presently live:
Brothers and sisters: You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; Let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day… Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provisions for the desires of the flesh.
In the words of Jesus you just heard in today’s gospel account:
So, too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.