First Sunday of Advent

Today’s readings

“To you, my God, I lift my soul,
I trust in you; let me never come to shame.
Do not let my enemies laugh at me.
No one who waits for you is ever put to shame.”

With these words of the proper entrance antiphon today, the Church begins the new Church year.  We stand here on the precipice of something new, a new creation, lifting up souls full of hope and expectation.  We come to this place and time of worship to take refuge from the laughing enemies that pursue us into our corner of the world.  And yet we wait for God on this first day of the year, keenly aware that our waiting will not be unrewarded.  This is Advent, the season whose name means “coming” and stands before us as a metaphor of hope for a darkened world, and a people darkened by sin.

I sure think Isaiah had it right in today’s first reading, didn’t he?  “Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways,” he cries, “and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?”  What a wonderful question for all of us – it’s a question that anyone who has struggled with a pattern of sin has inevitably asked the Lord at one time or another.  He goes on to pray “Would that you might meet us doing right, and that we were mindful of you in our ways!”  Almost as if to say, “Yeah, that’ll happen!”

Whether it’s our own personal sin, which is certainly cause enough for sadness, or the sin in which we participate as a society, there’s a lot of darkness out there.  Wars raging all over the world, abortions happening every day of the year, the poor going unfed and dying of starvation here and abroad.  Why does God let all of this happen?

On Thanksgiving, one of the topics of conversation at the dinner table was who was going to get up at what unheard of hour to go shopping on Black Friday.  I had absolutely no desire to join thousands of my closest friends at the crack of dawn to participate in a frenzy of consumerism.  But many did (and don’t worry; I won’t take a show of hands!).  But it seems like this traditional shopping day gets worse all the time.  This year, the news spoke of a Wal-Mart employee in New York who was trampled to death by people trying to get into the store.  A gunfight broke out at a Toys R Us in southern California and two people were killed.  What kind of people have we become?  Is this the way we should be preparing for Christmas – the celebration of the Incarnation of our Lord?  Why does God let us wander so far from his ways?  Why doesn’t he just rend the heavens and come down and put a stop to all this nonsense?  It’s no wonder the Psalmist sings today, “Lord, make us turn to you; show us your face and we shall be saved.”

There is only one answer to this quandary, and that’s what we celebrate in this season of anticipation.  There has only ever been one answer.  And that answer wasn’t just a band-aid God came up with on the fly because things had gone so far wrong.  Salvation never was an afterthought.  Jesus Christ’s coming into the world was always the plan.

I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite Advent hymns this week.  One of my favorites is “O Come, Divine Messiah,” a seventeenth-century French carol translated into English in the late nineteenth century.  It sings of a world in silent anticipation for the breaking of the bondage of sin that could only come in one possible way, and that is in the person of Jesus Christ:

O Christ, whom nations sigh for,
Whom priest and prophet long foretold,
Come break the captive fetters;
Redeem the long-lost fold.

Dear Savior haste;
Come, come to earth,
Dispel the night and show your face,
And bid us hail the dawn of grace.

O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

As we prepare to remember the first coming of our Savior into our world, we look forward with hope and eagerness for his second coming too.  You’ll be able to hear that expressed in the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer today.  That second coming, for which we live in breathless anticipation, will finally break the captive fetters and put an end to sin and death forever.  That is our only hope, our only salvation, really the only hope and salvation that we could ever possibly need.

We want our God to meet us doing right.  And so our task now is to wait, and to watch.  Waiting requires patience: patience to enjoy the little God-moments that become incarnate to us in the everyday-ness of our lives.  Patience to accept this sinful world as it is and not as we would have it, patience to know that, as Isaiah says, we are clay and God is the potter, and he’s not done creating, or re-creating the world just yet.  And so we watch for signs of God’s goodness, for opportunities to grow in grace, for faith lived by people who are the work of God’s hands.

We wait and we watch knowing – convinced – that God will rend the heavens and come down to us again; that Christ will return in all his glory and gather us back to himself, perfecting us and allowing hope to sing its triumph at the top of our lungs, dispelling the night and putting sadness to flight once and for all.

“To you, my God, I lift my soul,
I trust in you; let me never come to shame.
Do not let my enemies laugh at me.
No one who waits for you is ever put to shame.”

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