The First Sunday of Advent (C)
Dear brothers and sisters,
Only two days ago we saw people running frantically from store to store - and even within stores - to buy up any number of things. As they ran from one deal to another, they pushed their way passed other people, knocked over stacks and displays, and even grabbed items - most notably a vegetable steamer - out of the hands of young children.
From Atlanta to Louisville, from El Paso to Saginaw - as one media report put it - "shoppers decked the halls — and each other — as they battled and brawled their way through stores across the country Friday." As if this itself were not bad enough, "onlookers cheered" as two men beat each other in one store, "even as a female shopper got knocked down in the melee." Those who act in this way have strayed far from the ways of the Lord and do not walk on his path (cf. Psalm 25:4).
These bargain hunters where able to run to and fro with such lack of concern for others because they had been watching for the material goods they wanted. They knew where to go. They knew when to be there. They knew - at least in one sense - the price they would pay. These shoppers were, in a word, prepared.
Perhaps some of us were among their number, running, as it were, into a trap (cf. Luke 21:35), into a trap of unrecognized sin of selfishness, of jealousy, anger, and greed. If we recognize something of this temptation in our souls, we would do well to pray with King David, "Guard me from the trap they have set for me, from the snares of evil doers" (Psalm 141:9).
In their haste to satisfy their avarice, many Americans ran forth not to meet the Christ of God, but to serve mammon and were well-prepared to do so (cf. Collect and Matthew 6:24). They were crafty and cunning and, at times, deceitful and violent. The Lord Jesus commends something of these qualities even while rejecting others when he instructs us, saying, "I am sending you out like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves" (Matthew 10:16). If these women and men were so careful and desirous in running forth to get the physical things they seemingly wanted at any cost, how much more careful and desirous should be in running forth to meet Christ Jesus when he comes in his glory?
At the beginning of this Mass, we asked Almighty God for “the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming.” Do we really want this resolve? Certainly those shoppers were filled with resolve. Indeed, they put all of their energies into acquiring what they wanted. What do we desire more, the fleeting happiness of passing things or the coming of the One who alone can satisfy the deepest yearnings of our hearts?
Holy Mother Church gives us this season of Advent each year as a time to reflect upon the joy of the Birth of the Savior at Bethlehem, yes, but in these early days of Advent we are called to direct our thoughts to his Second Coming, of which the Lord speaks today. “They will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory,” he says (Luke 21:27). When he at least returns, it will not be as it was at his first coming when the only sign of his birth was a star in the heavens and an angelic greeting to a group of shepherds.
His first coming came unnoticed by most people, but it will not so with his Second Coming. Then “the powers of the heavens will be shaken” and it will be clear that his Advent is nigh. For this reason, he says, “people will die of fright” because they will know themselves not to “be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones” (Luke 21:26; I Thessalonians 3:13). They will die of fright because, as pray every Sunday, the Lord Jesus “will come to judge the living and the dead.” They will die of fright because they do not know him, because they do not love him, and because they do not serve him; to know him is to love him, and to love him is to serve him.
For this reason, Jesus tells us “not [to] become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth” (Luke 21:34-35).
Those who have welcomed the Christ Child into their hearts and who have sincerely said to him, “Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior,” will have nothing to fear at his coming because they will have maintained their friendship with him (Psalm 25:5). We have these next few weeks to prepare for his coming, to ask him to teach us the truth, to show us sinners the way, to guide us to justice (cf. Psalm 25:5, 8-9). If we seek to deepen our friendship with Jesus in these holy days by speaking with him in prayer and in the Scriptures, by confessing our sins and receiving absolution, and by serving the needs of our brothers and sisters, then he will indeed make us “increase and abound in love” and “strengthen [our] hearts to be blameless in holiness” so that we might “stand before the Son of Man” when he comes (I Thessalonians 3:12-13; Luke 21:36).
Let us, then, use these days not to run to and fro in the pursuit of things, but to run forth to meet the Christ, the only Savior of the world and the true desire of our hearts. Amen.