Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11
Luke 1:46-50, 53-54
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28
As most of you likely know, my previous parish assignment was to the River Road communities of Convent, Paulina, and Gramercy. One weekend we had a high school retreat with the students and parents in attendance at Most Sacred Heart in Gramercy and we had decided to speak about the church architecture and all the stuff one normally finds in a church as a means to praying. Fr. Vincent and I would go back and forth noting the things that struck us most about the church and at one point he asked if anyone had ever noticed the windows. Of course, everyone started looking from side to side at the large stained glass windows all along the sides of the church. He point out that the accents in the windows on one side were all images of wheat and the other side was all images of grapes. He then began to speak about the Eucharist and the community as the Body of Christ. I started to feel bad about myself since I had been there for almost two years by then and hadn’t even noticed the pattern. That was, until after we concluded and some of the parents came up to me and mentioned that they had been here for 40 or 50 years and had never noticed it either! This story came to mind as I was sitting by our own stained glass of the Blessed Virgin receiving the Holy Spirit and noticed for the first time in almost six months that the artist’s name was etched into the glass at the bottom, right next to where I normally rest my arm. These stories got me to thinking of how easy it is to miss something when our eyes aren’t looking for it and I began to wonder how aware I am of God’s activity in my own life? How many things is God doing – or waiting to do – but I’m totally oblivious to it?
This is what the season of Advent continues to draw our attention to: the activity of God in our midst. In the Gospel we see the priests and leaders of the community going out to find the Messiah. This was their whole mission, to find the one that was to save the people of Israel and fulfill all of the ancient prophecies. And so they went to John the Baptist and start asking questions: Are you the Messiah? Elijah? The Prophet? Who are you? When John gives his reply, he doesn’t just stop there but point out that “there is one among you whom you do not recognize.” How interesting that the leaders come out seeking the Messiah and they are so focused on John that they’re standing side-by-side with the Lord Himself and fail to recognize Him!
In this blessed season we hear and work to put into practice the call of habitual readiness for the Lord’s coming. That was the obvious tone of the First Sunday’s gospel call to “Be watchful!” The subsequent weeks help direct us the way of being habitually ready for the coming of Christ in His glory. Last week we were reminded that the most important and effective way to prepare for the Lord’s coming is repentance. John the Baptist’s call to turn from sin, confess one’s faults, and receive a baptism of repentance invite us to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where we do the exact same thing. There we find the means to breaking the chains of sin and experiencing the freedom to follow the Lord when He comes.
This week, with the freedom from sin established, the next step to be always ready is found in the passage from St. Paul and his three other ‘always’ type statements: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances, give thanks.”
It begins with ‘pray without ceasing,’ which we know isn’t walking around praying rote prayers all day long. Prayer is simply a dialogue or relationship with the Lord, so to pray without ceasing is to go through our day doing our best to keep in mind that God isn’t just up in Heaven and He isn’t just in the tabernacle at the Church, but that He is right there with us and is actively involved in our life. Sometimes we have tangible experiences of His presence and sometimes we can started putting clues together that our prayers are being answered or that God is leading us in a certain direction. That is the unceasing prayer that St. Paul invites us to, because it is then that we see the Lord working, speaking, and moving in, through, and around us.
As we start to recognize the Lord among us throughout the day, we will begin to express more deeply our gratitude. We will give thanks in all circumstances because we will be able to see the Lord in all circumstances. And as we allow our hearts to give joyful praise to the Lord the ways that He is working in our lives, we are led to that third piece of rejoicing always.
Rejoicing isn’t having warm emotions of happiness, feeling good about things, or the result of positive events taking place in our life. Rejoicing is the spontaneous reaction of our heart to the presence of the Lord. Why does Isaiah rejoice in our first reading? Because God placed on him the robe of salvation and the mantle of justice; God came to him in his brokenness and he encountered the God of love and mercy. Why does Mary rejoice in the responsorial? Because the Lord looked upon the lowliness of His handmaid and done great things for her – because she had a profound encounter with the Lord and His messenger Gabriel. Why does St. Paul call us to rejoice always? Because He first was knocked off of his horse by the Lord and filled with the Light of His Presence. And us? Why should we rejoice? Because just like Isaiah and Mary and Paul, God has come to us too. He came 2000 years ago, He comes daily in the Eucharist, and He comes to us in the course of our daily lives over and over and over again.
So where is God acting in your life today? Where is the Lord inviting us to find Him today? And are we ready to experience His presence and be filled with rejoicing?
Come, Lord Jesus.
Come, O Come, Emmanuel.