29 Nov 2015
1st Sunday of Advent, Year C
We don’t usually think of our faith as an adventure, but that’s what it is. It’s an adventure.
A couple years ago, when The Hobbit came out in theaters, there was a scene where Bilbo Baggins is sitting in his hobbit-hole, all alone. An hour or so earlier, he’d been invited to go with the dwarves and the wizard to the Misty Mountains, a far-away place. But he didn’t want to go. He declined the offer, and so, there he sat, alone. He was comfortable and was very much asleep, at least in his heart.
But before too long, he began to wake up and see that a chance at something more was quickly escaping him. And so, he packed up some of his things, and ran out of the door of his hobbit-hole. When the neighbors saw him, they yelled: “Bilbo Baggins, where are you going!?” He said, “I’m late!” “Late for what?” they asked. And he said, “I’m going on an adventure!”
He woke up to the invitation to go in search of more life. And that’s what this season of Advent is meant to do for us. We hear the call from Jesus—again—today: “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life . . . [instead,] be vigilant at all times.” In other words: “Wake up! I’m inviting you into an adventure!”
Jesus is inviting us to engage something important that’s coming. That’s what the word “Advent” means. From the Latin adventus: it’s an arrival, it’s something coming to us. And an “adventure” (an “advent”-ure) is the thing that’s come which we’re invited to engage; the thing we’re invited to lose ourselves in.
For Bilbo Baggins, the dwarves and the wizard invited him to go the Misty Mountains. That was the adventure they offered him. And, eventually, he took them up on that offer. Of course, Jesus gives us the gift of our faith; he lays it at our doorstep. The invitation to a life faith has come to us. That’s the adventure God offers us. Advent is a time to remember the invitation to faith; to wake up to it again, and to say (at least, to ourselves): “I’m going on an adventure. I’m going to get out of my comfortable hobbit-hole and go on the adventure of faith.”
And our waking up to the adventure begins, perhaps, with something like the Psalm today: “Your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me your paths; . . . Good and upright is the Lord;
thus he shows sinners the way. . . . All the paths of the Lord are kindness and constancy toward those who keep his covenant and his decrees.” There’s a lot of talk of paths, of walkways. Somehow, the life of faith in God is marked by paths, by walkways.
Of course, there’re not always well-marked out; that’s part of the adventure. Something I’ve noticed as I’ve become an adult is that I tend to stick more to walking on the sidewalks. I don’t know when that change happened, but at some point I went from making trails through the yard as a child, to sticking to the sidewalk as an adult. Of course, the paths from point-A to point-B are numerous. The sidewalk is a clear and legitimate path. But so is going off the obvious path and onto the less obvious path that follows the contour of the land.
Our adventure of faith begins with waking up to the reality that God lays paths before us. And paths are meant to take us somewhere. Sometimes the walkways God gives us are clear—we can think of the Ten Commandments or even the Beatitudes. Sometimes they’re clear, but not entirely—we might think of the Two Great Commandments to love God and love neighbor; they’re specific, but very broad as well. And then there are those paths which God puts into our minds and hearts. Maybe he gives us an idea. Maybe he knocks of the door of our conscience and says: “Wake up! I’m trying to show you something better.”
Our adventure of faith begins, perhaps, with waking up to the idea that God lays paths before us. And there’s a path—an invitation—that goes right up to the door of each of our hearts. We just need to wake up from our spiritual drowsiness, and open the door enough to ask: “Lord, where does this path—where does this adventure—of faith lead? Show me the way. I want to see where it goes.”
Of course, it will lead to coming of Christ into our lives—that’s where Christmas comes in. But did you ever think Christmas would sound like the gospel today? “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world,
for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” Now, that’s a different way to look at Christmas!
In a way, though, it’s part of the adventure of faith which Jeremiah prophecies about. He says, “I [the Lord] will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah.” There’s a promise to get rid of everything that divides the people, and to make the faithful people one again in mind and heart. But that “getting rid of what divides people” is the source of all that “dismay” and “fright” Jesus talks about in the gospel.
For people who refuse to wake up to the invitation—to the adventure—of faith, the end of the world would certainly be frightening. Death is frightening. Being unsure about life is frightening. But to people who have woken up to the adventure of faith, there’s nothing to be afraid of, since “the end” is simply the coming of Christ, the Prince of Peace, the Lord of Love. It’s the coming of our fulfillment as human beings. It’s the Advent of everything good our faith promises and which we deeply desire.
With Advent we look forward to Christmas Day, of course. We look forward to that morning of families and friends gathered into one, with gifts given in love and a banquet with more than enough for everybody. But with Advent, we also look forward to the culmination of our life of faith at the end of time, when the new Christmas Day will dawn; when the angels will announce (again) glad tidings to people of good will—people who are awake in their faith; people who’ve been living the adventure of faith already here on earth.
On that day, what a gathering there will be! Families and friends gathered into one in the Spirit of perfect Love, with gifts from God given to all in peace, and a banquet with more than enough for everybody. That’s the Day the adventure of faith leads us to. Of course, it’s an adventure we begin to live here, now, today—every time we wake up to the invitation of Christ to live a life of faith.
Our faith is an adventure. It’s something important that’s arrived on the doorstep of our hearts. But will we wake up to open the door? Will we be like Bilbo Baggins and say (at least, to ourselves): “I’m going on an adventure.”