Advent

Fr. Peter Daly

November 7, 2002

 

            A full week before Halloween, I noticed that somebody just up the highway from me already had decorations up for Christmas. On their lawn was a huge Santa riding a sleigh across the crab grass. Over the drive was a giant lighted archway with a sign in lights that proclaimed, “Happy Birthday Jesus.”

While I am happy about the sentiment expressed by their electrical tribute to the incarnation, I wondered if the people who decorated their lawn so early are also in the habit or sending out birthday cards a full two months early. Could it be that they are rushing things a bit?

We have a tendency to want to rush ahead to get done with the preparation and get to the celebration.  But if we rush too much, we miss something important.  We miss the journey. 

When Israel was wandering in the desert or living in exile in Babylon, they were learning something they needed to know.  They were learning their need for the presence of God. They also were learning what it would mean if God was with them. What it would mean if He suddenly came and set things right.  They were learning what it would mean to be saved.

Just as the exile made Israel refine its desire for a messiah, so too we have a period of yearning and learning that prepares our hearts and minds for Christmas.

That is the point of Advent. We shouldn’t rush it. If we skip ahead to Christmas, we won’t know what it is that we truly desire when “the Word becomes Flesh and dwells among us, full of splendor and truth.”

For me, this Advent will be a time waiting and yearning for three things that ancient Israel also waited and yearned for: peace, reconciliation, guidance.

Peace is obvious.  Acts of terror abroad and sniper attacks close to home have made us realize how much we want peace, a peace that the world cannot give. Only the power of God dwelling among us can set things right. So we pray like ancient Israel that God will rupture the heavens and come down and set things right.  That he will be for us the prince of peace.

Reconciliation is perhaps less obvious, but at the heart of what the Messiah brings.  Like everyone, I feel the need of reconciliation.

Having lived half a century I know that I have some fence mending to do. I think we all do. Over the years we have hurt, disappointed, and ignored people.  

I think my Advent will be a success if this time of yearning for the Lord is spent reconciling with others. That is after all what Israel wanted from the Messiah when they were in exile.  They wanted to be friends again with the God and to be reconciled to each other. Christmas will be worth waiting for if that is one of its gifts, if the tribes of our family and friends are reconciled and restored to friendship.

The third thing I want this Advent is guidance. This has been a tough year for the Church in general, and for Catholic priests in the U.S. in particular.  I will not be sorry to see this year come to an end.

But like the wise men who came to Christ, we need guidance to know where to go from here. The whole Catholic Church needs light to overcome the darkness of the scandals of this past year and get back on our path. Advent will be a success if at Christmas we can see the path.

Advent has a lot to teach us.  It refines our desires and focuses our yearnings. If we skp Advent, we don’t really have something to celebrate at Christmas. Don’t rush it.