Scriptures: Isaiah 63:16- 64:7; Psalm 80; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37
Wait for the Lord, whose day is near. Wait for the Lord: keep watch, take heart!
That’s a new song for most of you. It is from the Taizé Community in France. The English and the Spanish are slightly different.
The Spanish means: "I shall contemplate your life in me. I shall contemplate your love, O Lord." It seems as if they set the themes for the first Sunday of Advent to music.
Jesus tells a story in the Gospel about people who are waiting. What are we waiting for as Advent begins?
As we begin our 4 week vigil before Christmas, Isaiah and Paul both invite us to "Wait for the Lord!" and Jesus says, "Keep watch, Your Lord may be coming at any time."
In many situations, the rich don’t have to wait the way most of us do. Our culture doesn’t wait for the songs and decorations of Christmas, they are already out there. But Advent invites us to wait so we can know more deeply our need for God and our need for each other.
The Psalm and the reading from Isaiah echo the first step of any 12 step programs: "We admitted we were powerless [over our addiction] – that our lives had become unmanageable."
Admission of powerlessness is the first step to liberation. The "day of the Lord" is not only the coming of Christ at the end of time, it is the day when we realize that we can’t make it alone, but that we have a network which includes Christ himself, the Body of Christ which is the web of all our relationships, and a Communion of Saints both on earth and in heaven.
The day of the Lord begins when we take the 2nd step of the 12 step process: "Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity."
We are waiting so we can take a step in the direction of a deeper, more just and more loving relationship with God, Jesus and each other.
And we are waiting because the tension we feel at this season is a reflection of the tension between the kingdom of this world and God’s kingdom, a tension we live in throughout our lives. Jesus does not promise to destroy the tension, He sends the Spirit so we can learn to live creative and joyful lives as we adjust the tension to the right degree, like tuning a violin or guitar string so it plays the right note and makes beautiful music.
Advent and Christmas are really intermingled, both in the Liturgy of the Church and the secular rituals of the world. But we do not have to eliminate the tensions or difficulties or problems in order to live with joy and hope.
We wait for Christmas like a child who smells cookies baking. Imagine you are a child and your mother is baking. Imagine you can smell the cookies or the brownies. You can almost taste them before you get to eat them.
But it is not yet the right time to finish the process of tasting and eating them. In the middle of the Lord’s Prayer, just before the doxology, "For the Kingdom, the power and the glory are yours," you will hear the words: "As we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our savior, Jesus the Christ." That is a description of how God wants us to wait.
I remember an experience of that kind of waiting this past May. Sr. Anna and I were doing a weekend retreat in a parish in Allegany, NY, right next to St. Bonaventure University. The parish community was reaching out to a Mexican family of 9 who were the victims of human trafficking and their employer/oppressor had been arrested.
The whole parish, the University and the village had come together to sponsor a Sunday afternoon Mexican dinner, which the family cooked, with food provided by the Parish, as a way of raising money so the family could return to Mexico without the fear of being arrested if they returned to this country.
Sr. Anna and I finished the last morning Mass and had been invited to a concert in town, so we thought we could go to the dinner before we left. The line was around the parish hall, out the door and past the rectory, so we thought we would come back after the concert and eat, since the dinner would last until 8 p.m.
When we returned around 4:30, the line was just as long, if not longer and it stayed that way until 7:30 in the evening. We decided to wait in the line. It took us almost two hours to get our food, and I usually hate to wait, especially to eat. What amazed us both was the joy and laughter among the people who were waiting. No one seemed to be upset because they had to wait so long – what surprised me even more, was that I was not annoyed or bothered by having to wait.
I think it was because everyone knew that this waiting had a purpose – to support our brothers and sisters in need. And the food tasted even better than if we had gotten it in a few minutes. We still talk about that experience. It was truly a time of "waiting in joyful hope."
I think the 3rd step of all 12-step programs sums it up wonderfully: "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God."
We are called to actively wait, to "Be watchful!" "Be alert!" – to our need for God and for one another in the Body of Christ. We are called to see this dependence on God and each other as a means to independence from the demands and fears so prevalent in our world and even in our Church.
We are called to a revolutionary patience in the tension between light and darkness as the Gospel invites us to accept the tension of the present in the hope that Christ will soon come – in our hearts and through us to our world.
Advent is waiting in the darkness for the light to come. It is not waiting for disaster, but waiting for the good we are preparing for to arrive. Will you sing this song of joyful hope with me as Advent begins:
Stay Awake, be ready! You do not know the hour when the Lord is coming.