Our parish bulletin is now in full color. My painting here is the first cover. This is my column for this weekend.
Dear Believers in the Awaited Christ,
Welcome to this New Year of Grace, 2017! We begin the liturgical cycle again. We start with profound longing for Christ as the gospel settles into our ears and expectations that God will set us free and bring peace to his people.
Matthew’s Gospel (24:37-44) begins this season with a wake-up call. “Therefore, stay awake!” We need to take this plea seriously. However, what are we to wake up to? Or to whom do we wake up? We wake up to the person of Jesus.
In these dark days of Advent in the northern hemisphere, we set our focus on the Light of Christ. This focus is so difficult in our complicated world. We live in a 24-hour world with many things competing to get our attention even in the night. We are bombarded with news events, stock market results, and decisions from world and political leaders all night long. We are never far from the Internet to rouse compulsion and addiction. We are always close to being disturbed by constant noise of battles, brutalities and bad choices. The gospel tells us to be careful about our attachments, even our marriages and our sobriety. Everything can be taken from us. Jesus will come when we least expect. Listen cautiously. Do not be distracted. Let go of your hardened heart. Learn to pray anew.
Notice that Advent begins with yanking us out of our daily concerns and not setting us up for the coming of the Christ Child. We are not waiting for the baby in Advent. Christ is here already; salvation has come, not only the birth of Christ but in his passion, death and resurrection.
Advent is a fleeting time given cultural expectations of how we are to live in these days before Christmas. Decorations are hung before Halloween. Presents are wrapped be even before Labor Day. Cookies are baked and meals are planned. However, what about your spiritual life? How is your heart prepared again for Christ? I cringe at most of the cultural Christmas stuff. It is not that I am a curmudgeon, but that I know how much disappointment and loss also settles into this season. I want us to focus on the children whose parents’ divorced this year; to see the old woman in the fetal position in the nursing home whose family lives out of state; to be with the widower in the parish who just needs a kind ear; to reflect on the true gifts of your family, the real presence of love and faith. Live differently in Advent and don’t worry about staying home with your kids during the office party. Don’t take stock what you purchase for your children when they really need is you. Wake up! Stay alert to the real stuff.
Use the Advent night to pray, to cuddle with your children or call your adult children in a different time zone. Pray for a lasting peace for immigrants, foster children, people addicted to selfishness, and offer your life to the adult Christ who wants to live in your heart and the lives of those you love. “Therefore, wake up!”