December 3, 2018
Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily on the 1st Sunday of Advent (Year C) on November 29, 2015, at St. John XXIII Parish and Catholic Center in Knoxville, TN. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25; 1 Thessalonians 3:12 – 4:2; and Luke 21:25-28, 34-36.
Today, we begin a new church year and season. It’s Advent, a beautiful, quiet season, deliberately placed in the darkest weeks of the year. It celebrates our certain hope that Christ’s light will overcome the darkness.
Some people claim that there is a “War on Christmas.” It’s a stretch. If anyone has tried to obliterate Christmas from the United States, they lost. Christmas won. Christmas music and decorations are everywhere. One of my brothers wrote, “Christmas…. gobbled up Thanksgiving and now threatens to scare the dickens out of Hallowe’en.”
Has Christmas obliterated Advent? Not exactly. Advent co-exists with the shopping season and end-of-semester parties. It’s OK to be jolly before December 25. To paraphrase of one friend: “I don’t care how anyone else celebrates…. Buy nothing, shop Black Friday sales all day and all night, give to charity, make your own gifts, spoil your loved ones rotten… whatever.” Let us each await Christ’s new arrival, but let us do it in ways appropriate to our own circumstances.
In Advent, we wait for Jesus Christ to be born again into our world. Waiting is part of the human condition, but most of us don’t like it. We don’t like waiting for Santa. We don’t like waiting to grow up. We don’t like waiting for finals to be over. We don’t like waiting for true love to find us, for our career to blossom, for the doctor to diagnosis our illness, or for many other things.
Yet all of our scripture readings today are about waiting for Jesus to come. Do they have advice appropriate to other kinds of waiting? Yes!
Jeremiah writes to the people of Jerusalem in a terrible time. The armies of Babylon are descending on the city. It’s not a question of if Jerusalem will be destroyed; it’s simply a question of when. Yet Jeremiah proclaims: “The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made…. Jerusalem shall dwell secure.”
Saint Paul believed that Jesus would return soon. Yet his advice to the Thessalonians as they waited to be rescued from their problems wasn’t to relax. He writes: “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all…. to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus.”
And in our gospel, Jesus warns that there will be terrible things to endure before the end: the heavens will shake, and people will die of fright. But he warns us to hang on: “When these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” But I have to admit, the phrase that has stuck with me the most in these past few days is “do not become drowsy from… the anxieties of daily life.”
Drowsy from anxieties? What in the world does that mean?
Well, the more I reflect on it, the more it makes sense to me. Think about it: we all have things that require our ongoing attention. And most of us have things that we’ve procrastinated on giving the attention they require. (Any students preparing for finals know what I’m talking about?) And then there’s the fact that most of us worry more than we should. In fact, anxiety disorders are now considered the most common psychiatric illnesses in the United States!
But if we live in a world of constant anxiety, it becomes “the new normal.” We get numb to the extra adrenaline coursing through our bloodstream, “drowsy from the daily anxieties,” instead of anxiety being reserved for the truly scary things. What can we do about it? Well, perhaps this ancient season of Advent is just what we need in our 21st-century lives. Advent is a time to try to live in the NOW, without getting overly stressed out about what is coming in the future. Let us “stand erect and raise [our] head[s] high” when facing papers, final exams, shopping, and preparing for celebrations. When we find ourselves caught up in the whirlwind of worry, perhaps we should honestly ask ourselves some questions:
- Am I over-reacting to something that isn’t really that stressful?
- Am I making choices that make me more stressed than I need to be?
- Should I ask someone to cover some of my obligations for me?
- Do I need to accept that some things are simply beyond my control?
This, I think, is the key to celebrating Advent while in the stresses of December. In other words, can we ask the Holy Spirit to teach us how to “stand erect and raise our heads” instead of going to our default mode of needlessly escalating our levels of anxiety?
Advent is NOT supposed to be the same as Lent. Advent is supposed to be a season of hope, love, joy, and peace. But there is something that we usually do for the other special liturgical seasons of the year that we should be doing for Advent: we should prepare for the season.
We often ask people, “What are you doing for Lent?” We’ll ask friends and acquaintances about their plans for Christmas and Easter. But has anyone ever asked you, “What are you doing for Advent?”
This year, let us ask ourselves, “What am I doing for Advent?” Can we find a way to maximize the hope and joy this year, and minimize the fear and anxiety? As we prepare to give gifts to one another, can we seek the gifts that come from above?