Running to Meet the Christ: 1st Sunday Advent

Happy Advent everyone! It is my very favorite liturgical season and I love diving in headfirst — because you have to, because it’s so short. If you’re slow getting into it it’ll be half over.

So let’s do it! Let’s really do Advent this year, make it about more than a decorating scheme or a passive waiting period. I’ve heard so many 1st-Sunday-of-Advent homilies about "waiting." Mmmm… I guess. But you have to understand the kind of waiting we’re doing.

We had a little ritual with the family dog where we’d give him a treat when we came home. We’d hold the treat up and tell Sam: “waaaait………” and he’d have to sit back and be still and patient before we dropped it, sitting there so excited that he was just twitching, and I guess this was teaching patience or discipline… or something, come to think of it I’m not quite sure what the point was, but he had to prove he was really good at waiting before he got the treat.

For some of us I worry that this is all the meaning we find in Advent, too. Christmas is this big treat coming up, but before we get to enjoy it the Church says “WAAAAAAIT…..” for four weeks to teach us patience or discipline or… something.

We’re waiting for Christ to return, but that ‘waiting’ word sounds passive and still, like you’re sitting there watching the door or something. There is a much better word, and that’s preparation. That’s what the Church is actually asking us to do. We are awaiting Christ by preparing His way. Advent is the season of John the Baptist: lay low the mountains, fill in the valleys, carve out of the wilderness a highway for the Lord. Listen again to the Collect prayer that began this Mass:

"Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ
with righteous deeds at His coming,
so that, gathered at his right hand,
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly Kingdom."

Does that sound passive to you? Advent is a time for running forth to meet the Christ, running to meet Jesus. Once you get that, keeping Advent becomes something you really want to do. It’s not just dangling Christmas in front of you for a month, it’s a time of preparation and progress that you wouldn’t want to shorten by a minute.

Demonstration of proper form for Christian "waiting"
That means holding off on celebrating Christmas. We Catholics are on a different schedule than the world around us, which starts celebrating Christmas now and stops on December 25th. We start on December 25th and stop with the Baptism of the Lord, which this year is January 12th. In Taylor Swift’s new album there’s a line about how “we can leave the Christmas lights up till January” like that’s some kind of unusual and transgressive thing. Well, if you want to keep the Catholic calendar that’s exactly what you’ll do! Not that I needed any more proof that Taylor should definitely absolutely be Catholic.

But once you’ve carved out the space, you have to do that positive part, the running to meet Jesus. I have here a children’s activity sheet for the First Sunday of Advent. There’s a little word-solve game and two big signs at the bottom, a stop sign and a heart. Under them it says ‘STOP SINNING’ and ‘DEPEND ON JESUS.’ That’s right out of our second reading, it says in Romans 13:12 that we must ‘throw off the works of darkness’ (stop sinning!) ‘and put on the armor of light” (depend on Jesus!).

If you keep a to-do list like I do, there’s your first two entries for the next 24 days. Just go ahead and put those as the top two things every day. Part of ‘stop sinning’, part of throwing off darkness, is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus was so urgent and emphatic in the Gospel we just heard, in Matthew 24, about being prepared for Him to return at any time. Please do not go to meet Him and stand before His throne and attempt to explain why you didn’t think His gift of sacramental confession was something you needed to pay any attention to. If that’s your plan, it’s a really bad plan. And I’m going to be held to account as your pastor so if you don’t care about your own soul, do it for me? Please?

And putting on the armor of light does, definitely, mean we have to depend on Jesus. This is where the sermon ends and your prayer takes over. What does Jesus want to do in your life this Advent? How does He want to give you freedom and peace and joy? What does He want to set you free from? How does He want to bring you closer to Him? I can’t answer that for all of you in a homily. I’ll be happy to talk about it in spiritual direction though! But it starts with your own prayer, which is the only way to answer those questions.

Jesus came to us, became one of us, on Christmas Day, and we’re preparing to celebrate that with all our hearts in 24 days. Jesus will come in glory one day, and we’re preparing even more profoundly for that by our daily conversion and growth as His disciples. Jesus also comes today, He comes to this altar, wanting to be near you, not just as close as humanly possible, but as close as Divinely possible… that’s the Eucharist. Let’s keep Advent this year. Let’s run to meet Him.


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