FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT (A)
Today we begin a new year in the Church. Today we reset the clock and go back to the liturgical beginning. Having just celebrated the great Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe, recognizing His crowning glory and eternal reign over all, we begin the cycle anew today by celebrating His birth as a small, humble baby in a manger in Bethlehem....
...oh, wait. Nevermind. That's Christmas, and Christmas is another month way. Although you'd never know that from the secular displays in the world around us. People have been gearing up for the "Christmas season" since the day after Halloween (I saw my first outdoor Christmas light display on November 6 this year). But if you take your cues instead from a liturgical calendar, you will find that the Christmas season begins on Dec. 25 and runs until the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord on Jan. 12. Our liturgical New Year does not start with a babe in a manger. We have to wait a while for that. And that's just what our year starts with -- waiting.
During the month of November, as I enter into the annual "it's not Christmas yet!" season, I'm always afraid of coming across as a Grinch or a Scrooge. The reality is that I absolutely adore Christmas, and it is precisely because I treasure the holiday so much that I want to wait to celebrate it at its proper time. There is an order to things. Before Easter we must have Good Friday. Before a wedding there must be an engagement. And before Christmas we have Advent. The word "advent" means "coming." Our Savior is coming. We await His arrival.
Good things come to those who wait. The quick thrill of instant gratification is rarely all it's touted to be. But we forget this simple truth. We live in a world that wants it now. When I buy something online, I'm told if I just pay a little extra shipping I can have it by tomorrow. When I shop for groceries the aisles are full of instant everything; instant grits, instant oatmeal, instant pudding. We ship fruits and vegetables in from tropical climates so we don't have to wait for them to be in season. I'm in the midst of this culture of instant gratification myself. My favorite feature of my Netflix account is the "Watch it Now" streaming video. I'll take my Internet high speed, thank you. And even though I know cooking my oatmeal on the stove the old fashioned way tastes a thousand times better than the instant stuff, I also know it takes twenty minutes longer to make. So most mornings my microwave does my cooking for me. And I'm still waiting for someone to invent a Star-Trek style transporter device so I can get to where I want to go without that annoying travel time.
I need reminding - we all need reminding - that some things are worth waiting for. A meal prepared the proper way, with time and care, really does taste a thousand times better. We should all enjoy that from time to time. A college degree that takes you four years and lots of hard work to earn is worth more because it took time to achieve. Waiting for marriage before giving yourself fully to your beloved is perhaps the most perfect example of something worth waiting for. If something is good and worthy of love, then it is worth experiencing in its proper time, in its proper place. It is worth not spoiling.
When we wait for a good thing, we always find our capacity to appreciate it enhanced by our waiting. Our society today hates to wait for anything. And so I am grateful to the Church for giving us this season of waiting and preparation. In the midst of all the holiday business and stress that we have created for ourselves, the Church whispers to us, "Slow down. Wait. He'll be here soon. And it will be magnificent."
Today we are reminded that we still await our Lord. He came in the flesh over 2000 years ago in the Incarnation. And we wait for the proper time in the liturgical year to celebrate that coming. But from the beginning of the Church, we have also been waiting for our Lord's second coming at the end of time. And from the beginning, we have awaited that glorious coming with a sense of immanence. Because part of waiting also means being ready for what is awaited.
St. Paul tells us today, "You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand."
And so we wait. We wait joyfully for the great celebration of Christ's Nativity that is but a few weeks away. But we also wait for the glorious coming of our savior, the timing of which is unknown to all. We wait. And we prepare.
The semester at WCU is almost over. You'll be doing a lot of preparing in the coming days; preparing for exams, preparing to return home, preparing to celebrate the holidays. In the midst of all your end-of-semester preparations, do not neglect the most important preparation of all. Have you prepared yourself for the advent of Jesus in your heart? As I have said before, we do not know whether the Second Coming of Christ in all His glory as Judge will happen today or a billion years from now. But that hardly matters because one day - relatively soon, in the grand scheme of things - you will meet your personal end and come before Jesus as merciful and just judge. We should recognize that our judgment can happen at any time and make ourselves ready for that moment. And then we wait.
St. Paul tells us that the time for foolishness and "works of darkness" are over. "The night is advances, the day is at hand," he says. "Let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and list, not in rivalry and jealousy." Enough of that nonsense. We are better than that. We are Christians. We have an eternal hope.
Likewise Jesus implores us in today's gospel, "Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come... So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."
This we know with certainty - He is coming. For us to be prepared, we must first let His advent reign always in our hearts. Advent reminds us that He is worth waiting for.