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First Sunday of Advent Reflection

November 29, 2010

Increase our longing for Christ our Savior and give us the strength to grow in love, that the dawn of his coming may find us rejoicing in his presence and welcoming the light of his truth.

~ Alternative Opening Prayer

adventWith the first Sunday of Advent a new Church year begins. The year just passed, as all years, has been a year of joy and suffering, peace and struggle, love and conflict.  It has been a time of growth and new beginnings and of diminishment and death.  It has brought many blessings, but it has also taken its toll.  For most of us our day to day lives of work, habit and routine have, to varying degrees, worn us down and tired us out.  On this day, the words of St. Paul to the Romans call us to remember the transcendent Reality underneath our daily somnolence.  “It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep” (Romans 13:11) 

     As Advent of 2010 begins, the words of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew (24:37-9) seem to have a striking relevance:

As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be at the coming of the Son of Man.  In those days before the Flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark.  They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away.

During the recently concluded mid-term elections in the United States, a time for a societal conversation on its priorities, values, and shared response to them, there was a remarkable silence regarding our responsibility as a people to the planet and its future from politicians, religious leaders and the population at large.  There remains little doubt in all reasonable circles that our carbon emissions have polluted the air we breathe and dramatically altered the earth’s climate to a degree that is already threatening the lives of millions, especially those whose lives are already most difficult.  There was much talk of how angry and frustrated the American people were, but little or no discussion of our responsibility for the earth and to each other. 

     Month by month the evidence grows that the changes to the Earth’s climate are becoming, if they have not already become, inevitable.  How do we carry on obsessed with concerns about our own satisfaction in the face of such a responsibility?  We do it as human beings always have, by falling asleep.  From the time of Noah, through the Disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before Jesus’ death, to the perilous state of our planetary home, in the face of what is too much for us we go to sleep.  Peter, James, and John did it literally, while we, most often, do it in the same way as those who lived in Noah’s time.  We get caught up in all the concerns of our daily lives, repressing our deeper longings, aspirations, and fears, to such a degree that we forsake our deepest calling and responsibilities.

     The Alternative Opening Prayer for this First Sunday of Advent prays that the advent of the Lord “may find us rejoicing in his presence and welcoming the light of his truth.”  It does not say that we are to rejoice in his presence and welcome the light of his truth after he comes, but rather prays that when he comes he will find us rejoicing and welcoming truth.  How is it possible to rejoice in the presence and know the truth of One not yet arrived?  The beginning of the prayer offers an answer.  It is the nature of the human heart and soul to live in longing, to desire and to search.  Thus, the prayer asks God to “increase our longing.”  We fall asleep because it is difficult to live the passion: to live in desire, longing, and searching.  Yet, it is precisely in longing and desire that we know the presence and the truth of the Lord. 

     To live unconsciously is to create a life of habit and reaction that serves the lie that we are unable to bear our own deepest desires and longings of heart and our potential for passion and compassion for God’s world.  Far too often all of our rage and anger at a world that doesn’t satisfy us and fulfill our sense of entitlement is but an evasion of our own deeper life, our own capacity for presence to the truth and communion with the Lord.  This Advent we are once again invited to wake up by detaching ourselves in one or two small ways from all of our strategies for somnolence and evasion.  Perhaps we can start by finding time each day to “sit still.”

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Last updated: 11/24/10.