To run forth to meet our Lord Jesus at his coming

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1st Sunday of Advent, Year B: Nov. 27, 2011
Isa 63:16-17, 19; 64:2-7; Ps 80; 1 Cor 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37

Each year, for many people, the week of Thanksgiving brings many periods of watchful expectation. For these days include journeys, arrivals, and wonderful events that follow at the destination. How many children in how many cars will ask, “Are we there yet??” Well, that’s one kind of expectation! But perhaps we do better to think of the child inside the house looking out the front window and asking, “When will Grandma and Grandpa get here? Or my aunt or uncle? My cousins?”

And what is it that fills the hours and days before their arrival?

  • Communication by phone as plans are made;
  • cleaning the house and setting up the guest room, to make a physical space for them;
  • taking days off from work and clearing the calendar, to make a space in time for the visit;
  • and planning those fun and meaningful activities by which you will spend time together and bring them delight.

All of this to prepare for the arrival of a holiday guest.

This special time each year in the life of so many families in the United States coincides with the beginning of Advent, that season the Church gives us each year to prepare for the arrival of our Lord Jesus Christ with eager expectation.

Early in the Mass, we prayed in the Collect, or opening prayer, “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.” For he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end; and, as we will profess in just a few minutes, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”

Now, if those expressions seem a little more emphatic than usual—they are! For what we hear is among the changes in the English retranslation of the Missal that we begin using today for the first time. And I have been waiting with eager expectation for this day, ever since I read over the first section that went final two years ago! For I saw then what you also will now hear: not only that it is

  • a much more accurate translation of the Latin original, and
  • much more consistent with what is already prayed in other languages;

but that

  • it communicates important theological truths more clearly;
  • it uses Scripture much more recognizably;
  • it uses words and imagery that are much more beautiful and vivid.

And so it is that we pray with energy and passion for “the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ”—with an eagerness that surpasses our expectation of guests this Thanksgiving week; and a passion that matches the words of the prophet Isaiah in the first reading. For there we hear him cry, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you… Would that you might meet us doing right…”

Do we in fact feel that same passion, that same longing for the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus? Do you? Does your heart ache and cry even within this Mass: “Come, Lord Jesus”? (Rev 22:20)

What can make our hearts so eager for his coming? What can give us the passionate longing that we hear from Isaiah and from the early Church? Two reasons: a negative one and a positive one.

The negative reason comes as we observe that things are not going so well in our earthly lives and might not get much better. Many might feel this today as they struggle with job loss, and look around our nation and the world at economic turmoil, political deadlock, violent confrontations. We heard Isaiah observe of his own people, “We are sinful… unclean… polluted… withered”; and we too can observe moral decay on a personal and societal level. When stresses mount, when hope declines, when age takes its toll, we too may long for release and cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

But there is also the positive reason. For as we get to know our Lord Jesus better; as we receive his love and goodness; as we experience his saving power in our lives; as we savor sweet communion with him as he touches us under sacramental signs: then we long to know him fully, to see him face to face, to see him as he is. (1 Cor 13:12; 1 John 3:2) For if he is the source and creator of all that is wondrous and beautiful and delightful in our world, then what must he be? And what blessedness to be united with him for eternity!

We must never fall for the lie that heaven is boring and hell is empty; that this earthly life has the highest highs and the lowest lows. No, quite to the contrary: this life is only a shadow of the rewards or punishments that await us in eternity.

How then shall we sharpen our expectation and preparation this Advent? How shall we run forth to meet him? Perhaps in the same four ways that we have prepared to welcome a Thanksgiving guest:

  • First, by communicating with him now, before his arrival. By stepping away from only hearing the voices of the world—on television, on the computer, or other places—and making sure that we hear our Lord’s voice—in Scripture, in Church teaching, in the silence of prayer—to find out what kind of heart he wants to find in us at his arrival.
  • Second, by cleaning up the house. We do this especially by sacramental confession—not only of mortal sins, but even of venial sins—and by making changes in our ongoing daily habits.
  • Third, by making time in our schedules. During these four weeks of advent, can you set aside a little time each day?—in the morning, in the evening, or perhaps during a lunch hour? How can you make time for him?
  • Fourth, by choosing how to spend time with him. Having made that time, perhaps you could read and meditate upon some Scripture; you could pray and listen to his voice? Perhaps you could use one of the little blue books available in the vestibule as a tool to help you. You might even be able to attend daily Mass every day or some days each week.

By communicating with him now, cleaning up the house, making time in your schedule, and spending time with him, this Advent season can truly be a rich and peaceful time of nourishing expectation—as you “take time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.” (St. Teresa of Avila, Life, 8.5) “Come, Lord Jesus!”

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