November 30, 2015

First Sunday of Advent

              Mother Rebecca Stramoski                       
                                                                                                                    November 29, 2015

Jer 33:14-16; 1 Thes 3:12-4:2; Lk 21:25-28, 34-36
The biblical texts we have for this first Sunday of Advent, though they are indeed about signs and the expectation of things to come, they do not mention any of the wonderful signs that Christmas is on its way.  Instead, we hear Jesus saying, “On earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.  People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken”.  This is not a very cheery way to celebrate the beginning of the new Church Year, the beginning of Advent, or the movement towards the Christmas season of peace, love, and joy. These are verses which have been interpreted by many to be signs of the end of all things…NOT the beginning of a new liturgical year! 
But Jesus adds “when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  So the new year opens with the call to be alert, awake, and vigilant…not in fear but in hope and eagerness.  What we are waiting for, really, is the end of time.  We are waiting for Christ to come – not as a baby in a manger, but as a king in the clouds.  Advent does not commemorate what was, but anticipates what will be!  This isn’t a time for sentiment, but for searching—searching our hearts and making choices. 
As we open the Advent Season today, the readings tell us that it is a season of Readiness, Reflection, and Renewal.  First, it is a time of Readiness:  Jesus says “do not let your hearts be drowsy”.  “Be vigilant at all times”.  I think Ronald Knox describe this readiness so well in one of his Advent sermons.  He said:  “Everyone knows, even those whose life has not been that adventurous, what it is to plod for miles eagerly straining your eyes towards the light that, somehow, means home.  When doing so it is difficult to judge distances.”  In pitch darkness, it may be 500 miles or 500 feet – it’s hard to judge.  Knox said this is what it must have been like for the Hebrews as they looked forward to the redemption of their people.  They could not have told you when deliverance was to come:  it could be 500 years or that afternoon!  “They only knew that, some time, the stock of David would blossom anew; some time, a key would be found to fit the door of their prison; some time, the light that only shone on the dawning horizon would broaden out, at last, into the perfect {and eternal} day.”  We must be ready so that day “will not surprise us like a trap”.
Second, it is a time of Reflection.  Jesus tells us in the gospel, “pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations…and to stand before the Son of Man.”  Advent is a time of prayer…to meditate on the unsuspecting signs of contradiction that reveal Christ’s nearness to us.  We are called to extra times of reflection on the Word of God in the rich liturgy of Advent.  Like Mary, we spend this time in lectio - pondering the words of Jesus in our hearts…In quiet prayer - as we ‘stand before’ Jesus in silent adoration…and at every Eucharist - where Christ continues to come into our lives, into our outstretched hands, and into our longing hearts.  As we pray every day at Mass: “We wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.”
Third, it is a time of Renewal.  St Paul says in the second reading, “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all”…and ”Conduct yourselves to please God.”  Advent is the time to repair what is broken, to heal what is hurt, to forgive those who have trespassed against us.  It is a time to allow the stock to blossom, to use the key that opens prison doors, and to allow the light to shine in the darkest of places.  Is there any resentment I hold on to from things that happened years ago, or yesterday, that separate me from loving my sisters.  How appropriate that Pope Francis will be calling us to open the doors of Mercy this Advent and new year.  Advent is a time to let go and to start anew and renewed.  It is the time to remember the work that we need to do – searching our hearts and making choices.   A question we can ask our self this Season is not only what obstacles need to be broken down so we can love more fully but what behavior can I add to love my sisters more deeply?  If we can change one thing in order to better love, it will be a fruitful Advent!
And so we make ourselves ready.  We prepare.  We clear the way.  It is a time for valleys to be exalted and crooked ways made straight.  So what will you do during this special season of Advent?  Is it…to Ready yourself more fully for the Lord’s coming?  To Reflect more…using this time for extra prayer or additional spiritual reading?...Or to Renew your hearts through some form of conversion or discipline?  All three of these are tightly interwoven.  But whether we focus on readiness, reflection, or renewal, a fitting mantra this Advent for all three movements can be:  “Come, Lord Jesus, Come!” 

And so…..Are we ready?....November 29, 2015

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