First Sunday of Advent
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
I am not a patient man. I yell at the priory coffeemaker to hurry up. I can recite the entire Nicene Creed waiting for the doors of the seminary elevator to open and close. And I'm the guy behind you at the intersection honking his horn the second the light turns green. I have Patience Issues, but I bet some of you do too. That we have to wait sometimes is inevitable. In traffic. In the register line at Walmart or the DMV. We don't have much choice then. We also have to wait for the birth of Christ and his coming again. No choice. That we wait is a given. What's not a given is how well we wait; that is, how we choose to spend our time waiting.
So, here's question for you: do you wait well? I mean, are you able to pause in your day and give control of your time to something or someone else? A machine (the reluctant computer, the lazy coffeemaker, the elevator in no hurry at all) or a person (the cashier discussing his break time with a coworker, the SUV driver chatting on the cell phone stopped at the green light)? Can you hold your yourself in suspension, just stop and let something or someone else’s agenda, their needs, their wants, their time take precedence? Because that’s what waiting is. Waiting is what I (we do) do when I bring myself to acknowledge that my agenda, my needs, my wants, my time are subject to change, subject to the whims and quirks of other people, the random workings of machines, the weather, and the markets. Pretty much any and everything out there that can run interference on my plans does so, and so I wait, giving over to the hard fact that I am subject to other people, other things.
That we wait is a given. The only question is: how well do we wait? Waiting well is what we are given the chance to do during Advent. And we start in earnest today.
Just in case any of us holds the opinion that Advent is a season of joy, a pre-season of cheeriness gearing up for the Real Cheer of Christmas, we have on this First Sunday of Advent a sobering reminder of exactly what Advent is. From Isaiah we have this confession: we are sinful, an unclean people, even our good deeds are like polluted rags; we are dried up like fallen leaves, and our guilt carries us away like a wind! Yes, Advent is all about confessing ours sins, turning back to God, asking for forgiveness, and waiting, waiting, waiting on the arrival of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Advent is penitential. It is winter’s Lent. And it is a season for us to live Isaiah’s confession: “O Lord, we are the clay and you the potter; we are all the work of your hands.” If Advent is going to be a season of good spiritual fruit, if we are to claim and name our sin, turn away from disobedience, and beg forgiveness from God, then we must bring fresh to our hearts and minds the wisdom of Isaiah’s confession: we are made from the stuff of the Earth, breathed into life by the divine breath, shaped, and given purpose by a God Who looks upon us as works of art, creations to be loved and saved and brought back to Him unblemished. This is our short time before celebrating the coming of our salvation for us to prepare ourselves to be found lacking, needful, and humble before the Lord.
Starting here, we wait. Yes, we wait. And if we are to wait well, we wait on edge – the thin moment between repairing and giving thanks, confessing and praising, wailing and rejoicing. There is a still, quiet eagerness, a sharp keenness to this season. It demands of us a stiff attention to who we are as fallen creatures and who we can be as children of God. It demands of us an exercise of patience and a hurrying to be done, the practice of serene persistence and a rushing to finish. Our prayers this season provoke us into knowing ourselves completely, to know ourselves as we are, and to bring that knowledge to the Lord as a gift, an offering of sacrifice.
We wait. And we watch b/c Jesus urges his disciples: “Be watchful! Be alert!” But this is not an order to sit quietly, looking to the East, waiting to be found. We are to be busy with seeking the Lord in prayer, in praise and thanksgiving, and in the good works of mercy and compassion for one another. Jesus is not ordering his disciples to complacency, to quietism. He is ordering them (and us) to alertness, to strict attention to the source and summit of their mission as those sent to preach and teach the gospel. We are to be working for the good of our Master’s kingdom while he is gone, laboring to produce a good harvest to celebrate his return. We watch b/c we know he will return, he will fulfill his promise to come back to us, bringing with him our reward for faithful service and strict attention.
And so we wait. But do we wait well? Waiting is how we give to one another some measure of control, some small piece of power over us in order to admit that we are joined with those who live beside us. I know men and women who will drive themselves crazy refusing to admit to themselves or anyone else that they need others or are needed by others. Their false independence poisons everything they do, everything they are, and they slowly disappear from sight. They cannot wait well on the Lord b/c they cannot live lives of confession, repentance, forgiveness, and praise.
To confess, to repent, to forgive, and to praise are all moments in the divine life that clearly speak the reality of our total dependence on God and express our willingness to work with His other children in the kingdom for His greater glory. Our Advent season is that time of the Church year when we are given the chance to pay strict attention to who we are as fallen creatures and who we can be as children of the Father. It is a time for us to wait well on the Lord—to give him control, to give him lordship of our lives, to rule and reign as Lover of our hearts, Master of our souls, and God of everything we have and everything we are. This next week, allow the Lord find you in need of his salvation, ready to be forgiven in repentance, and impatient to offer him thanks.
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