Mother Rebecca's Chapter Talk for the First Sunday of Advent
Is 63:16-17, 19; 64:2-7 and Mk 13:33-37
The theme on the First Sunday of Advent is always about waiting. Today’s readings show how essential knowing our self and knowing God is, if we are going to wait properly. The images in the first reading, as well as what is nuanced in the gospel, show some unpleasant concepts of how we can see our self and God: “Behold you are angry”, we are “sinful like polluted rags”, we are like “withered leaves”, God hides his face from us leaving us in our guilt, and we need to be on guard because we do not know when the master will return.
If we see God as an angry or demanding master, we won’t be waiting for him in hope but in fear. There are two ways to wait – in a hope that saves or in a fear that destroys. To wait in fear is anxiety; to wait in hope is anticipation. So who we wait for will decide how we wait. The same could be said regarding our self. If I see myself as worthless and unclean than I won’t be expecting a lot of good things to come my way.
So let’s look at a few people in Scripture who can show us how to wait properly. Obviously we can begin with Mary. Pope Benedict said that Advent is like a prolonged, stretched out Annunciation. We sit with Mary and ponder, prepare, and pray. She is a pure model of patience through her love which opened her to receive the Holy Spirit. We know almost nothing of Simeon and Anna other than that they were waiting in the temple for the Lord to come. They are a model of patience through their hope which was fed by worship and prayer. Then there was the paralytic at the pool who waited 38 years before being healed. He is a model of patience through his faith which was accompanied by great humility. So, we wait in patience through faith, hope and love. This can only be accomplished through being open to the Holy Spirit, through worship and prayer, and with great humility.
But there were also great people in Scripture who were not very good at waiting. Abraham got impatient waiting for the Lord to act and so he hurried and took Hagar as a second wife. Moses got impatient and hit the rock twice losing his admittance into the Holy Land. I remember in college we had to read the Book of Genesis (Mythology class) and I did what I always did when having to read a book for school…I searched for the cliff notes! Panic hit when there were none to be found and so I had to actually read the book! In my impatience I wanted a shortcut.
It is hard to be patient. I think one of the reasons is because we walk more often by sight rather than by faith. God assures us that he is busy on our behalf but we still want to see something happen. Yet God’s delays are not denials. They are usually the means which God uses to prepare us for something better. God is always at work for the good in us and in all things. The only way God can teach us patience is to test and try us, and the only way we can learn patience is to surrender to God who is in all things. “God can grow a mushroom overnight yet He takes His time to grow an oak tree.” Some things in life just need waiting. It took Joseph 13 years to be ready to handle Pharaoh’s estate. It took God’s chosen people 40 years to cross the desert. David was anointed king when still a youth but he had to suffer much before taking the throne.
Perhaps the hardest place to be patient is in the furnace of suffering. God does not always explain what He is doing or why He is doing it. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us when we suffer it is the time to “imitate those who through faith and patience (have) inherit(ed) the promises.” (6:12) Knowing that the Father is near us and that He is working out His wonderful purposes ought to encourage us, but we often get impatient just the same.
A person once complained to her pastor, “Why has God made me this way”? He replied “God has not made you – he is making you”! It reminds me of the image in today’s first reading: “we are the clay, you are the potter”. Earlier in the Book of Isaiah the prophet uses an image of a disgruntled pot who argues with the potter who created him. (Ch 29:16) We can see the irony and humor of a lump of clay, impatient with the potter’s work, and so disowns him. To cut off from the potter’s hands is to remain a lump of clay – without beauty or usefulness. If we can be peaceful in His Hands, we have become a patient disciple, open to accept and do His will.
The problem with this school of patience is that we never graduate. We are always learning, always maturing. Sometimes we fail the examination even before we know what the lesson is. No matter; our loving Father is guiding us and making us more like His beloved Son, and that is all that does matter!
I would like to read a poem by Ann Lewin that I think captures this virtue of patience.
Prayer is like watching for the Kingfisher.
All you can do is be there where he is likely to appear,
Often nothing much happens;
There is space, silence and Expectancy.
No visible sign, only the
Knowledge that he’s been there
And may come again.
Seeing or not seeing cease to matter,
You have been prepared
But when you’ve almost stopped
Expecting it, a flash of brightness
This can be another great model of what our Advent waiting can be. All you can do is be there where he is likely to appear and wait. Often nothing much happens then suddenly a flash of brightness gives encouragement.
So this Advent Season is a time for waiting in faith, hope, and love. There are no shortcuts or cliff notes to a spiritual life. All in God’s time and to His purposes. So let us be encouraged by Mary, Simeon, Anna, and the paralytic this Season and wait for the Holy Spirit, in worship and prayer, and great humility.
November 30, 2014: 1st Sunday Advent
**(Some ideas from Warren Weirsbe: God is not in a Hurry