Sunday, December 5, 2010

Active Waiting

Readings for December 5/Second Sunday of Advent:
Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-2,7-8,12-13,17
Romans 15:4-9
Matthew 3:1-12

As we begin this second week of the Advent season, I pray that each of you have begun to really enter into Advent and to truly live in this beautiful season. It seems a simple desire and yet it is rather difficult to actually do this because the world around us is telling us that now that Thanksgiving is over, we ought to move straight into Christmas. We hear the Christmas music on the radio, we see the Christmas decorations all over the department stores and everywhere we look our eyes tell us it is Christmas. To all of this add the craziness of holiday shopping, the various holiday parties, family gatherings, and the simple busyness of the end of the year, and it that simple task of living the Advent season becomes a rather difficult one.

Part of the problem that we often have with Advent is that we don’t always know what to do with it. It’s only four weeks, so as soon as we really get into it, Christmas is almost here. Also, we are all so filled with joy as we eagerly await the coming of Christ, and yet we wear the penitential violet vestments. There are just lots of mixed signals. And yet the Advent season is important for us as Christians because it forces us to wait.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t exactly look forward to waiting because most of the waiting that I do is waiting in lines at grocery store, various department stores, and at the drive thru. But that type of waiting is a passive waiting, a waiting in which we just waste time until we can do what we are waiting for. This is obviously not the waiting that we are called to do in this Advent season. We’re not just killing time until Jesus gets here. Rather, we are called to an active waiting, a waiting in which we are busy about preparing for that thing we wait for. Or in this season, the person we are waiting for.

Our gospel reading today provides us with an excellent example of this type of waiting in the person of John the Baptist. John was certainly one who eagerly anticipated the coming of the Lord in His glory. Remember that it was John the Baptist who leapt in the womb of Elizabeth when Mary came to visit her after the annunciation from Gabriel. And it was this same John who, filled with Holy Spirit, excitedly points out the Lamb of God to his disciples. But in the thirty-year span between those two events when John was waiting, he was also preparing. We heard it in the description of his life and ministry in our gospel. He was a man of great simplicity and asceticism – he lived in the desert, he wore clothing made of camel’s hair and his food was locusts and wild honey. Not exactly a posh lifestyle, to say the least. In this way, though, John prepared his own heart for the day when the Lord would come. He did not want to be caught off guard or in a state of unpreparedness. And in addition to preparing himself for the Lord’s coming, he always went about preparing others. We hear his first words in the gospel, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” And in response to this cry, many people came to him to be baptized in the waters of repentance and sat at his feet listening to him to teach about the One Who was to come shortly. Thus he prepared the way for the Lord to come. And so must we.

Recall that when we hear the scriptures, we aren’t just hearing about things that happened 2000 or more years ago. We are hearing the voice of God speaking to each of us. And this weekend we hear the Lord speaking to us calling us to repentance, just as John called people in day to repentance. When we think about repentance, though, sometimes it can carry with it a negative connotation, as if someone was pointing a condemning finger at us. But what we really ought to focus on is the great gift of the call to repentance. The Lord doesn’t just call us to repent for repentance sake. Rather, he loves us and wants to have a deep, personal relationship with each of us and he does this by asking us to put away those things that take our attention away from him. To help us in this the Church suggests frequent attendance at Mass, regular confession and an overall awareness of the Lord throughout our day. These things are especially important in this Advent season when we are waiting and preparing for Christ to come among us. Too, we must be like John and reach out to others and call them to deepen their own relationship with the Lord and be able to teach them about Him who is coming soon.

This is the active waiting that we are called to have in this blessed season of Advent, the waiting in which our souls and the souls of others brought to love more deeply the Lord whom we eagerly await. May the Lord, grant us the grace.