1st Sunday of Advent - Be Vigilant, Pray, Listen

As we begin to move into the season of Advent, we transaition from the darkness that will precede the end of the world to the darkness that hovered over the world at its beginning. Surprisingly, this darkness holds within it the promise of dawn as we anxiously await the rising sun. This is a season of expectation and of hope. It is a time for us to listen again to God's promise of deliverance and reconciliation. It is a time for us to be reassured of His relentless love for each and all of us, and for our planet. Now is the time for us to listen to voices of Advent.

They are diverse and from extremes - voices of pain, voices of warning, voices of hope and voices of fulfillment. They are voices of information and voices of divisive misinformation, voices of quiet promise and voices of fretful anticipation. That is just the way Advent is, filled with contradictions and extremes. It is a season to celebrate the promise of Christ’s coming, his arrival and the expectation of his return. Can we hold it all together? Maybe we can’t. It is just the way the season is.  It is just the way life is.

If we truly listen to the voices of Advent, maybe they will help balance all the seeming contradictions. Better yet, maybe they will throw off balance what we have so carefully tried to keep balanced. Our ordered lives need the disorder of Advent so that we can put aside our biased concepts of order and be more open to the new order God wants to bring to our lives this season. We should let the voices speak, embrace them in awareness and experience the transformation they offer us. If anything, Advent promises a change both for us and our world, a change beyond anything we ourselves can envision or bring about on our own.

There is an abrupt entrance into the season of Advent. The Scriptures today are both reassuring and a bit scary.

Jeremiah begins by inviting us to take ownership of our past and present weaknesses and put hope in his message that God is coming to heal us, not based on our own goodness, but on the justice of God. What God has promised, God will do. 

The world Luke describes is falling apart, with cosmic signs and a warning to us: “"Be vigilant at all times, “…pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man."”

"Be vigilant at all times." This is not exactly a very pleasant phrase to be heard as we prepare for the holidays during Advent. Jesus used variations of the phrase at various times during his ministry. And it has been interpreted in many different ways: "be watchful," "be careful," "stay awake," "keep on your toes," "listen up!"

But during Advent, the most salient interpretation of the phrase "be vigilant and pray at all times" is one of "paying attention" - that one be attentive to the presence of God at each moment of life, to make the most of all opportunities, and to prepare for the Kingdom already present in this world.

Attention is the key word here. It is paying attention with our eyes and ears.  It is paying attention to the presence of God. It is tending toward that presence by paying attention to the presence and plight of our neighbor. It is intending God's presence in this world, being tender with God's presence and being able to live with the tension of God's presence. It is living intensely with God's presence.

The past few years have been far from peaceful. We continue to face the world-wide pandemic and extreme climate changes. We struggle with national and global unrest and turmoil. We have come face-to-face with hatred and blatant predujice, and polarization in our society, our politics and in our church. But, especially as this year comes to a close, we reaffirm our belief in all that Jesus has already accomplished in us. And we see in that belief a reason to hope for so much more. We hope for a deepening of our own resolve and for the power to overcome evil in ourselves and in our world.

Advent is pregnant with the promise of new beginnings.  It is a time for us to be vigilant and to pay attention to the signs of the times. Pope Francis is another Advent voice and he has given two gifts to assist us: Fratelli Tutti and Laudato Si’.  We are indeed all brothers and sisters having the ability to work together in building and sustaining our common home. We have an opportunity here to grow, to develop from scratch a spirituality of waiting - a time of hope and promise - as we remain vigilant and pray constantly.

But being vigilant, praying constantly and simply listening is not nearly enough. The message of Advent is a call to action and responsibility - a call to grow in sensitivity and awareness and to take an active role in alleviating the pain and suffering in the world around us. Advent is the season of expectation but it is also very much a season of the present moment, because God is already in our midst, calls to us and continues to stay with us, even as we cry out: “Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus, Come!”

But what do we do when we suddenly become aware of his presence?