Already we are beginning the Second Week of Advent. It is the beginning of a new liturgical year, a time when we are called to open our hearts more widely to Christ as we remember and re-live yet again the events of his life – his coming into the world, his teaching and miracles, his death and resurrection. It is a time of heightened spiritual awareness – when the Scripture passages we read warn us not to become so full of anxiety over our problems or so caught up in our pleasures that we will fail to prepare our hearts to receive Christ – at Christmas, in our daily lives, and indeed at the end of time. The prayers for Masses in Advent continually remind us that we are to find Christ and his love amid the passing things of this world.
Now the second week of Advent begins: what happened to the first week? I don’t know about you, but it went by in a hurry and it was filled to the brim with all kinds of events and challenges. So I ask myself: am I readier this week than last to welcome Christ? It’s a question all of us need to ask ourselves.
This is why the Scripture readings for today really are good news for our busy, preoccupied, and sometimes overly stressed lives. The reason they are such good news is because they give us practical guidance on preparing our hearts to receive Christ as never before. They tell us who we are waiting for; they tell us where we can find him; they tell us how we should wait for him: Who, Where, How: three words to help us find our way thru today’s Scriptures.
Who Are We Waiting For?
Who are we waiting for? Are we waiting for a stranger like limousine drivers at the airport? Are we waiting for a relative or friend we haven’t seen for a long time? Or are we waiting for someone we know and love and whose friendship we want to deepen?
No matter which of these might apply best to our lives, all of us are waiting for the same person – we are waiting for Jesus. So too was the prophet Isaiah, from whom our first reading was taken. In fact, Isaiah tells us for whom we are watching and waiting. We are waiting to meet Jesus the Son of God made man. How will we recognize him? We will know him because he took on our humanity, our human nature. And he filled our fallen human nature with the gifts of the Holy Spirit: the gift of wisdom and understanding, the gift of right judgment and courage, the gift of knowledge and of fear of the Lord – those gifts of the Holy Spirit we received when we were baptized and confirmed. In fact, the first thing Jesus ever said of himself was in the synagogue at Nazareth, his home-town – when he proclaimed: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me!”
We are waiting for Jesus whose humanity was filled with the Holy Spirit such that he judged wisely, loved and defended the poor, obeyed his Father to hilt, and lavished mercy and forgiveness on us through the Sacraments of the Church. Maybe we have not really met him; maybe our relationship with him is distant, or maybe we love him deeply, but we are here together as a community of faith because we can never know and love Christ too much, we can never reach a stage in our lives when we do not need his saving love.
Where Do We Find Him?
If it is Jesus whom we are awaiting during the Season of Advent, where, then, do we find him? Our first answer may be, right here in Church, the tabernacle, where the Eucharistic Lord, his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity are reserved. We may also say we find Jesus in the Word of God, for He is the Word made flesh. And we may further say we find Jesus in Church, the Body of Christ, especially in the lives of the saints and those among us striving to lead holy lives. Such answers are utterly true & should be for us the source of endless joy & gratitude.
But there is another part to the question: where do we find Jesus in ourselves? And here St. John the Baptist whom we met in the Gospel gives us that answer. He went to look for Christ in the desert. That’s where he tells us to look. He’s not suggesting, of course, that we take a field trip to Scottsdale, Arizona. No, he suggesting that we look for Christ in the desert of our souls. Psalm 42 says, “My soul thirsts for the living God … .” And among the last words of Jesus on the Cross were these: “I thirst.” To experience our need for Jesus, we need to withdraw, if only for a time, from all the hustle and bustle of daily life, to be alone, to be quiet, to reflect. There we may find that our soul is parched and barren and lacking in fruit, that we need to make use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Penance so that the waters of our baptism may again irrigate our spiritual dryness.
How Do We Look for Jesus?
And then we ask: how should we wait for Jesus? St. Paul in our reading from St. Paul to the Romans answers that question: We are to wait for Jesus with hearts full of hope and not just any hope but a hope that endures through thick and thin, a hope that does not give way to grumbling and dissention but instead is built on the harmony we share from professing one faith. “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another,” St. Paul says, in keeping with Christ Jesus. St. Cyprian of Carthage, a martyr hailing from the 3rd century wrote: “We must endure and persevere if we are to attain the truth and freedom we have been allowed to hope for; faith and hope are the very meaning of our being Christians, but if faith and hope are to bear fruit, patience is necessary.”
So Advent is not about a temporary good feeling, a moment of holiday cheer. Advent is opening our hearts to Christ and hoping in Christ every day of our lives, whether we are sick or healthy, prosperous or poor, grieving or rejoicing, tempted or at peace – “Wait for the Lord,” the Psalmist tells us, “be stouthearted and wait for the Lord.”
Yes, we must wait in hope with patient endurance. And as St. Cyprian remind us if we wait for the Lord with patient endurance, our lives will begin to bear good fruit. When John the Baptist saw the Pharisees & Sadducees coming to him for baptism, he grew angry with them because he knew they were not really looking for the Savior. They came to win the approval of the people. But John the Baptist told them: every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down & thrown into the fire.” Pope Benedict told us that those who have hope live differently. If we are sincerely seeking Jesus, our lives will begin to change. They will bear good fruit – the fruit of the Holy Spirit: “charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modest, self-control, and chastity.” Such a soul, even if it is only beginning to bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit, will recognize and welcome the Christ whose humanity is filled with the Spirit of God.
So, let it be Jesus that we seek. Let us seek him in the desert of our souls. May we seek him with patient endurance, with lives that are already bearing good fruit. Then will we rejoice at Christmas as never before.
God bless you and keep you always in his love.