FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
“Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent ….” Lk. 21:27
Here we go again!
Advent is here. A new Church year begins.
Out comes the color purple. Out come wreaths and special hymns and tree lightings and Salvation Army bell-ringers and Black Friday deals and Christmas music. Out come the nativity scenes and the preparations for family gatherings and snow and cold and the shoveling of driveways and an atmosphere of new beginnings and the emphasis on peace to all people of good will.
Here we go again!
Only this year it’s different.
It’s different because this year Advent falls at a time when there is great social upheaval, along with all the anxiety that goes with it. It’s different because there is now an intense sense of fear that has become heightened by headlines like these:
Paris Attacks Spur Intense Policing in Europe; Brussels Paralyzed by Terror Dragnet; Politicians Push for the Registration of Syrian Refugees; Turkey Downs Russian Warplane; Hostages Taken in Northern French Town.
When you stop to think about it, however, perhaps all of this that is happening in our world at this time is not too different from the kind of terror that Jesus was referring to in today’s gospel – a fear that involved imminent “tribulations.” Jesus even speaks of people “dying in fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world.”
What the season of Advent offers each of us is a strong reminder, a wake-up call, a “snap-to-it” notice that our anxieties and terrors can be calmed down by some dedicated time for stillness, for mindfulness, for quiet before the Lord.
The word “Advent” means “arrival.” It designates the “arrival” of a special time of the year set aside to remind us once again of what the Christmas event really means. It’s an “on-call” time when we become fully alert to the need for the inner preparations of our hearts, the inner “anticipation” of something profoundly dramatic and life-changing.
It’s a time of the year, then, to be quiet in the midst of so many personal demands on our time and energy, plus all the pressing fears that our society at large has produced in just the past few weeks.
All the more reason, then, for us to call “time out” on the field.
And, in the midst of our quiet time, perhaps among all the things that we can reflect upon, the most important might be these:
Where is it I can find hope in the midst of so much darkness in the world today?
How is it that my heart can become the “manger” that holds the child Jesus in the world I live in now?
What will it take for me to continually remind myself that I am to become a light that helps dispel the darkness that so much of the world is now experiencing?
When is it I will finally commit myself to become the place where God dwells – a place where I can find the strength and the courage to reach out, especially at this time of the year, to those who are in dire need, to those who are awash in fear?
Pope Francis continually reminds us that mercy and compassion are the ultimate signs of our willingness to invite the child Jesus to make his home in our hearts. He is adamant that the most opportune place to locate the Lord of the Universe is precisely where Jesus repeatedly told us we would find Him: in the poor, the weak, the vulnerable, the hungry, the mentally ill, the homeless.
In fact, this is so urgent an issue to our Pope that he has declared this Church year to be officially designated a “Jubilee of Mercy.”
A beloved spiritual writer, Henri Nouween, asks this question: “How can we come to know God when our focus is elsewhere, on success, influence, and power? I increasingly believe that our faithfulness will depend on our willingness to go where there is brokenness, loneliness and human need.”
What they are both saying is that Jesus is not to be found in a manger in Bethlehem anymore. Instead, he is to be found in plain sight – right where Jesus told us to look: hidden among the powerless and the nobodies and the terrified.
But to do all of this, we need stillness; we need reflection; we need the time to be quiet before our God so that we can come to see that whatever terrors, whatever fears haunt us, Jesus has gone before us to conquer those demons and to assure each of us that “when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”
We are not abandoned. We are not without hope. We are not left to fend for ourselves. Our God, born in a manger, is Emmanuel: with us, for us, beside us, within us.
So, here we go again!
Only this year let’s make it different. Let’s make it into that special time to remind us like never before what Advent is really all about – a time to step back, to go quiet, and to remember once again that our God repeatedly tells us throughout Scripture to “Be not afraid” – because we are not alone.
In fact, in the stillness of Advent, if we listen closely, we may be able to hear ourselves being invited once again to make our hearts Christ’s new manger, God’s new dwelling place.
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.