Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Practicing for the Game

Readings for Sunday, December 7/ Second Sunday of Advent:
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
Psalm 85:9-14
2 Peter 3:8-14
Mark 1:1-8

I want to begin by thanking everyone who came out to the dance on Friday night. It was really great to see folks having good, clean fun. As I sat there watching everyone, I was brought back to my days of watching cartoons, of how they’d show a big crowd dancing and the whole group would move up and down in sync with one another. Well, I saw it in person on as the whole group moved with the beat of the music – it was neat to see. I mention that I was watching others because I don’t dance. I do great with formulas, patterns, and rituals, but not so much with spontaneous stuff, like dancing of is. As I was reflecting on that reality I began to think of those places where I felt most comfortable and was able to thrive and one of those was in sports.

As a child I loved playing baseball. I played spring, summer, fall, and tournament teams and loved every minute of it. But any person who has any experience with sports knows, as with most any activity, that the game is preceded by much practice and preparation. Especially when we were younger, coach would bring us in and quiz us on various scenarios. He say something like, “There’s a runner on first and one out. If the ball is hit to first base, what do you do?” and he’d point and we’d have to answer as quick as possible. And he’d do this regularly with all sorts of scenarios so that as when it was game time we wouldn’t have to think about what to do, but rather we’d already know how to respond. But all the time it was because in practice we’d have to stop, take stock of the situation, and mentally prepare to execute whatever play came up.

That idea of continuous scenarios being tossed at me struck that it seemed oddly similar to what we keep experiencing throughout the Advent season. This constant attitude of being prepared, of taking stock of the situation and getting ready to move, is the spirit of this season of expectant waiting. And much like our coach in ball coach would do, the prophetic voices of scripture keep tossing things our way.

The great ancient prophet Isaiah, living several hundred years before the Lord Jesus came among us, is recalled almost daily in the readings for Mass. And in each of them a little scenario is given to help point out the Messiah. “When the blind see, what do you think? Messiah! When peace comes to us, what do you think? Messiah! And what do we do when the Messiah comes? Prepare the way! Turn away from sin!”  This attitude of constant watching and waiting was meant to prepare the Israelites so well that when the Messiah finally came they would be more than ready to follow because they knew exactly what to look for. And to some degree this happened in the disciples, as we see in Mark’s Gospel opening.

To this we add the prophet St. John the Baptist, who prepares the way for the Messiah. He who would point out the Lamb of God also helps to train us in our response to the Lord’s coming – repent, be washed clean, turn from sin. And lastly we have form our second reading the person of St. Peter, who is living in the time after the Messiah has already come and yet is calling us once again to prepare the way. This time we prepare not for a first coming but for His second coming in glory. But how do we prepare? In the same way as before: by watching for the signs of the times and turning away from sin.

This blessed season of Advent is a time in which we can hone our skills on turning away from sin, practicing the little scenarios and continuing to think about the ways of recognizing the Lord’s coming to us throughout our days. I recognize that while this is a penitential preparation liturgically speaking, the world around us is already celebrating Christmas and we all have calendars full of events with Christmas themes. So I was thinking of ways that we could continue to contemplate the scenarios of the Lord’s coming and one is to practice little mortifications, little deaths to self. When you go to the next gathering, take only one of the desserts. Or maybe look at the whole spread of food and find the thing you want the most and skip that for the evening. Or maybe you could drink the cheap beer or drink the diet drink you don’t like. They seem little things but if we are able to deny ourselves the little things that are good for us, when it is game time we will be used to this denial and will be better prepared to turn away from the sins that come our way.

And so we do as I was required to do for so many practices: stop, take stock of the situation, and prepare for whatever might soon come our way. And so we continue watching and waiting, preparing for the coming of the Lord.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Come, O Come, Emmanuel.