“There will be signs.”
These days, we are seeing a lot of signs. “No mask, no entry.” “Stay 6 feet apart.” “Gas 3.35 a gallon.” (That’s if you’re lucky!) Those signs can be just as worrisome as the ones Jesus describes in his first words in this Gospel.
But he is asking us for something more — to look beyond our present moment, to be prepared for the end of time.
That sounds like an odd way to prepare for Christmas, doesn’t it?
But we need to remember: Advent is about more than getting ready for the Baby Jesus and the singing of “Silent Night” on December 24th.
It is about changing our hearts, our attitudes, our lives, to fully welcome Christ into our world.
Advent calls us to pause, wait, prepare. God is coming.
Over by the baptistry, there’s a stained-glass window depicting St. Bernard of Clairvaux. One of St. Bernard’s great messages for this season is to get ready for the three comings of Christ: his coming as a baby in Bethlehem … his coming to us as King and Judge at the end of time … and Christ’s coming to us here and now in our present day.
With those ideas in mind, I want to offer three suggestions to help us all do that better.
And we need to. Our culture tends to take Advent for granted or just ignore it entirely. It’s the time of year when we get endless re-runs of “Elf”on TV, endless packages from Amazon, endless calories from cookies and fruitcake and eggnog.
As Andy Williams keeps telling us, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
But if that’s all that Advent means to us, we are missing the point. We’re doing it wrong.
Just listen to how the season kicks off. “Be vigilant,” Jesus tells us. And to that, St. Paul adds this: “Abound in love for one another … strengthen your hearts … to be blameless in holiness.”
Those are the seeds of having a good Advent.
But how do we begin?
First, as Jesus said: be vigilant. Keep your eyes and your heart open. During Advent, the days grow shorter, the nights grow longer. But into that darkness will come light — and not just the electric bulbs you hang on your tree.
I’ll be saying it next week when I celebrate baptisms in this church as I stand at that font and hand a lit candle to the parents: “Receive the light of Christ.” This is the light that is coming into our dark world. We commemorate that coming and we anticipate it with the candles on this Advent wreath — each candle adding to the light, week after week.
Remember that. See in this growing light a sign of promise. Of a prophecy fulfilled. Of a hope that will never be extinguished.
The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem reminds us of God’s love for each of us. Take joy in every candle, every bulb, every reminder of God’s love lighting the world.
Secondly, be aware of the journey. Advent is about taking a journey. Just think of some of those we will meet in the days to come. A teenager from Nazareth running to meet her cousin. A couple expecting a child and traveling to Bethlehem. Wise men following a star halfway across the world to a place they never imagined or expected.
This is the story of all of us during this season of transition, this time of expectation and waiting. Like the familiar hymn tells us, “We are pilgrims on a journey.”
As pilgrims, we should end up at a different place from where we began — as different people than the ones who started the trip.
To make that happen, spend more time these days in prayer. Make time for confession. If you can, take advantage of Reconciliation Monday, December 21st, when all the churches will be open for priests to hear confessions.
Be aware of silence. Amid the noise of December, turn down the volume. You won’t miss a lot of the songs of the season. Mariah Carey will still be there on Christmas Eve. But while trimming the tree and writing the cards, make this a time for an inner journey — a humble, prayerful exploration that can help you to greet not only the son of God in a stable, but the King of Kings when he arrives at the end of history.
Consider this: If you met him as a child in a stable, what would you have to say to him?
Or if you saw him coming in glory, what do you think he would have to say to you?
Finally, to borrow the title of a popular carol, “Do you see what I see?” When we look around, do we see Jesus?
He is here —in those around us, in the Gospel, in the Eucharist we will receive.
But look further.
Do we see him outside the walls of this church? Do we even try?
Do we recognize him sitting on the steps of the subway station, with a cardboard sign saying “Help”?
Do we acknowledge him in the woman at the next cubicle at work, the one who is struggling to hold together her marriage and worried about her future?
Do we see him in the weary eyes of sad strangers whose faces are hidden behind masks?
Do we see him in the people who are restless or unhappy, or hurting and alone?
Do we see him in the people we love, and those who love us?
A friend of mine posted something beautiful on Facebook a few weeks back, thanking his family and friends for their birthday wishes. And he added this: “Every day,” he wrote, “I realize that my wife and children are God’s way of saying he loves me.”
Each of us needs to look around and look for Jesus in our world — and know that he is waiting to be found, looking for each one of us.
It is that coming of Christ — the one that happens every day when we are unaware of it — that may be the most overlooked, but most important.
It is then when we have an opportunity to become the people St. Paul described, people who “abound in love for one another.”
How much we need that today. Spend a few minutes watching CNN or listening to Newsradio 88 and that becomes clear. We are part of a wounded, angry, divided world.
But this Advent, we can help change that. Heart by heart. Person by person.
How can we have a more meaningful Advent? Those three things can be a good start.
We need to open our eyes.
Take the journey.
Be aware of God at work in our world.
And, in doing all that, we need above all to “abound in love.”
That’s where it begins. Those are the building blocks.
May we use them to welcome our savior into our lives this season and always — as a baby, as a king, as brother.
“There will be signs.”
Christ’s first words in this Gospel call us to pay attention. May we be alert to signs of God’s coming into our lives — so that we may be signs of faith, hope and love to a world in need.