27 Nov 2016
1st Sunday of Advent, Year A
The Christmas season is well underway. Black Friday was a success, the Christmas decorations are going up, music of the Holiday Season is in the stores and on the radio; Christmas parties are on the calendar, eggnog is in the grocery store, and St. Nick’s feast day is just around the corner. And that’s all fine. You know, even in Advent, we still remember that Christ really came to us in flesh-and-blood two thousand years ago. And that’s something we celebrate year-round here at the altar; we celebrate the Incarnation: “God with us.”
But, as with most things, we get used to God being around. We get used to our friends and family. We get used to the way things are, you know, our routines. We get used to our jobs, to our time in school; we get used to the way we worship. And it’s so easy to “fall asleep” to the wonders around us. We even drift off into Never-Never Land here at Mass, where God is the most visible and accessible to us.
Advent is a time to wake up! It’s a time to get slapped on the cheek to wake up! Or as St. Paul puts it very nicely: “You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.” Rise and shine, and get reacquainted with everything we’ve gotten used to, especially God.
At our baptism, each of us was given a lit candle; it was (and is) the Light of Christ. And we (or our parents and godparents) were told to “keep the flame of faith alive in our hearts.” Now, I have to be honest—I have no idea where my baptismal candle is. And I imagine that might be the case for a lot of people. And maybe there’s some irony in that. I’m a Christian, but I don’t know where my Light of Christ is—so how do I know where I’m going in life? What’s my guiding Light?
Maybe we get so used to Christ that his Light sort of fades into the background, and he becomes just one star among many in the night sky. Advent is a time to wake up, to open our eyes to find that Light again, to say, “There’s my Guiding Star, there’s the Light of the Lord!” And, you know, that’s actually a pretty daring thing to do today.
A long time ago, between the 13th and 16th Centuries, the world experienced a major shift in its view of . . . everything. Up to that time, God was central; God was everything. After that time, the human person became central; men and women became everything. Of course, this was the “Age of Enlightenment.” Sciences and mathematics came into their own; new sciences sprang up: psychology, biology, chemistry, physics, and so on. This was the age of striving for human perfection—physically, socially, intellectually, politically. Life revolved around the human person, because we were everything.
And if this was the “Age of Enlightenment,” then everything before was less-than-enlightened; they were the so-called “Dark Ages.” Of course, this is the prevailing mindset even today. If you are a person of faith, if you seek the Light of Christ, then you are not very sophisticated, you are foolish; you are, literally, dim-witted. And so, to really get into Advent, to “Come, walk in the light of the Lord,” as Isaiah says, really is to go against the prevailing culture.
Those prayers, “O come, o come, Emmanuel,” and “Christ, be our Light” are actually pretty subversive. To actively seek the Light of Christ, and to desire more of that Light turns the world on its head—because it means that God is the center of life, not us. The season of Advent, and those little candles on the wreath that signify faith and the desire for Christ’s light and guidance—they undercut what the world thinks of itself. Advent is almost a charge that says, “If you do not have the Light of Christ, you are in the dark. If you do not have the Light of Truth and Knowledge and Wisdom, then all human endeavors will be handicapped.”
When the Prophet Isaiah says, “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord,” it’s an invitation to see where we’re going. It’s an invitation to have clarity in our thoughts. It’s an invitation to make choices in life that are made in selfless faith rather than convenience; to act in love rather than fear; to live in the light of hope rather than the darkness of doubt and despair. Advent is an invitation to reclaim the Light of Christ as our Guiding Light, regardless of what the enlightened world says.
Advent really is an adventure! It’s a subversive adventure. It’s a chance (again) to wake up and say, “I don’t want to live a dull life. There’s more to this world than me! I want to be enlightened by Christ; I want to see what he sees.” Happily, Christ wants the same thing for us! He wants us to see and to live well; he wants us to be enlightened. But it’ll only happen through faith, and by staying awake to him.
As I mentioned, the Christmas season is well underway. And that’s fine. We should celebrate the birth of Christ year-round. But let’s not get so used to that dazzling light that we forget to stay awake and look for that more understated light: the inviting light of Advent—the Light in our darkness; the Light which invites us to, “Come, follow me onto another path, the path of faith, the path toward . . . who knows where.”
I also mentioned that we may not know where our baptismal candles are. But we do know where the Light of Christ is; we know where that Light can be found. He’s in Scripture and in the sacraments; he’s in the neighbors who love us and guide us and challenge us; he’s in the silence of prayer and in the stirrings of our heart; he’s in our emotions and thoughts; he’s in the wonders of creation, in truth and knowledge and wisdom.
The Light of Christ is all around us, and within us. We just have to make a spark to find the Light again. And we do that every time we pray from the heart: Christ, be our Light. O come, o come, Emmanuel! With the spark of faith, we pray: Christ, be our Light!