I noticed a young man running down the street recently in the pouring rain. He ran with his arms flapping widely, wearing a T-shirt and baggy pants and not wearing socks or shoes. His long wet hair hung in his eyes and he appeared filthy dirty. The youth ran in the opposite direction of people standing in line waiting for our hospitality center to open. I noticed that he was running in the wrong direction for us to help him. He had the resolve to run in the cold wearing little clothing, but I do not know where he got the help he needed. He did not run toward change or even consolation.
I realize as we begin this new liturgical year, that I am the only person standing in the opposite direction of the congregation as I pray this opening collect at Mass. Until I witnessed the young man running wildly away from our ability to help him, I never notice my posture in the sanctuary while praying the collect. I pray that my heart is focused on the coming of Christ Jesus. I want to be running toward love and consolation. I also stand with my arms open praying even against the flow of every other person.
I minister among people who desperately run to find God in their present life situations. This is often so difficult not only in the Advent season but in any season of the year. The collect for the First Sunday of Advent implies that we all have a deep relationship with God so that we can all run toward the prize of Christ that is waiting for us. This is where so many people stumble and fall. So many people feel so unworthy of God and so judged by the church. People suffering long-term mental illness rarely discover God in their circumstances of isolation and fear. The battle-weary soldier lives only in fear after leaving the desert sands of war. The sickly grandmother aches to have her absent children near but she has not heard from them in years. Advent prayers of waiting for the birth of a savior do not comfort the mother suffering her third miscarriage. We all seem to be running in different directions, all praying to be at Christ’s side.
This collect reminds me of people who run from their past to escape their pain. Others run from their futures because they feel life will remain difficult because they have never known anything other than suffering. They also run to escape the pain and threats of today. Still others do not feel worthy of God’s love at all. People’s lives remind me that the liturgies of Advent begin a three-fold awareness of God. I must cling to this hope in Advent. We praise God for the works of the past, for Jesus born in the world. We look ahead to the end of time when we will be united again in the Kingdom in Christ second coming. We also open our hearts and minds in prayer knowing Christ is already here among us in the present. God is worshipped in our assemblies revealed in the past, in our present and in the future. The liturgical prayers, the scriptures all proclaim this three-fold presence and invitation to prayer.
I pray the collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent begging God for a message from an angel to guide all of our lives and hearts into the healing direction of love and mercy. In these Advent days, people in every parish community seem to be running without direction, without hope to sustain them in the search for love, hope and peace. The Advent season lived and prayed in every worshipping assembly invites us to orient our hearts’ desire into the enduring love that is born among us still. We all desire to be welcomed by God and one another in this season of grace.
I point my heart and life in the direction of God as John the Baptist proclaims in the scriptures during this holy season. I model my heart from the ancient prophet who called out in the wild. I am so aware that many people feel left behind even with John the Baptist’s help. I ache for the day that we will all find our place in Christ Jesus, at his holy right hand in the Kingdom of God. Finding the real direction toward love is up to all who follow the way of Christ. The love we run toward is in our righteous deeds, in serving people who have lost their way. There is so much work to be done before we take our final place at Christ’s right hand, being present with those in our midst that cannot help themselves. I pray for the resolve for all to run to meet our Christ.