A homily for the First Sunday in Advent
We are waiting for the Savior. These words from St Paul to the Philippians perfectly fit the Advent mood the Church wishes to inculcate in us. So these are words we should do more than simply hear and then nod our heads. We are waiting for the Savior should be a motto to live by, a simple sentence that shapes every decision, every desire.
We are waiting for our Savior, Christ Jesus. So let us wait not down hearted, not in dread. And certainly not nonchalantly, unconcerned, with detachment, without forethought, and not as an agreeable thought that never affects our daily routine. But we get to wait with uplifted hearts, uplifted heads, with eager expectation, with joyful anticipation. And with the excitement, the confidence, the belief that our Lord is coming, and that his advent will usher us into a better world.
So, let us wait with hope, believing that our Lord’s arrival will bring us good things. That is what hope is: believing that good things await us in the life to come.
Our weakness, and so our challenge, is that we don’t really wait. At least not for the Lord. And not for his imminent return or arrival. Most days it’s the furthest thing from our mind, a barely noticed twinge in our hearts. And when the Lord’s advent comes into our minds, when someone or some event reminds us of this possibility, then as quickly as it enters, we push the thought out. Why? On the one hand, we’d rather not be reminded of our mortality, that our days are numbered and will end. On the other hand, we don’t want to face the truth that we’re living our life in the wrong direction – head down, focused by the things that break, fade, mold; and diverted from the things that truly matter most.
And so, we impatiently seek happiness in the affairs of this present life. Instead of looking up, setting our eyes on Jesus, we make every effort to snatch the prizes this world offers: prizes that really do us no lasting good. We gladly receive the goods this life offers while rarely acknowledging and thanking the Giver. We do not truly look for the good and perfect gift that comes from the Father of lights, but instead we think we’ve stumbled upon the good life because of what our hands have worked for and our minds have done.
Blessed are the women and men who take no notice of the spurious and empty foolishness that this world falsely promises. Blessed are those who are able to live beyond the things that distract, beyond the misspent desires, beyond the misdirected loves. These are blessed because they know it is better to become humble with the meek than to share in the vain promises of the proud, the greedy, and the powerful.
Those are truly blessed who say not just with their lips but deeply within themselves, “The Lord is my portion so I will wait for him. The Lord is good to everyone that trusts in him and longs for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good to sit quietly readying the soul to greet the Lord.”
The first step in waiting for the Lord is to deny yourself, to deny your flesh by fasting and prayer. There are other steps. But this first step of fasting coupled with prayer cannot be skipped or done halfheartedly if you truly wish to await the Lord’s advent. For this first step gives you the strength and courage to lift up your head above all the things in this life.
Lift up your head means, live not for the peace and contentment this world can never give. To lift up your head means to live for the best life, the life in God, where everything we have is a gift—not something we have to dwell on, or strive for. But all is a gift given to always directs our heart and mind and whole being in thanksgiving towards God.
We are waiting, St Paul says, because our citizenship is not here but in heaven. We are waiting because we believe that this life is a prelude that trains and sets our way for the life to come. And so, we wait with the confidence that our abiding place is in heaven, from where our Savior will come in order to bring us into himself. And then we will be able to say with Isaiah: “Behold, this is our God; We have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the Lord; We have waited for Him; We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”
That was the hope of the Old Testament church. They waited with joy and gladness for the salvation that the Christ child would come to bring. Certainly they wavered, oftentimes they got lost. But when they leaned into the Lord’s promises, they were eager for his advent. His first advent. In the manger. In our flesh. On our earth.
His second advent will not be all that different. In our flesh, on our earth, our Lord will come to let us see and understand fully and without hesitation what he has already accomplished in his first advent. He will come not so much to complete, but to help us see what has always been. He will come to give the fullness of the gifts he has already given, a fullness that we have if only we believe. Rare saints have been blessed with seeing this Lord’s coming, saints like John the Evangelist when he saw what the Lord’s coming looks like, and described it in the book of the Revelation. The record of John’s vision is this: everything we think that matters here and now will fall away and be displaced with the unending glorious Mass where nothing can harm or threaten or frighten.
When will this day occur? When you and I, individually, have been given a time for true repentance. For that is what the Lord awaits. He waits, he delays—not to toy with us, not to build character within us, but so that we might be truly ready when he comes. Time for true repentance for many of us, for myself especially, takes a long time. For true repentance is not about feeling guilty or constantly apologizing. True repentance is living in gratitude for the Lord coming into this place, this church, where his kingdom comes, so that we together might receive his flesh and blood in order to give courage and faith to our weakened body and soul.
So, the day of the Lord’s second advent begins with the reception of his body – the body he assumed from us in his first advent, in the manger, in Bethlehem.
Waiting for Christ, then, begins here at the altar. Where we practice for heaven. Where we learn to lay aside all earthly cares—all tweets and buzzes and notifications and messages and ring tones—that force our head down. The more we can disengage, the more we will be living toward the end, and for the end—in the time of true repentance, with heads and hearts uplifted.
May Christ our true God, by his Holy Spirit, grant us time, and the godly desire to desire his advent. To whom, by the prayers of the saints, belongs all glory, honor, and worship, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.