Expect the Unexpected
Gospel Reflection for the 1st Sunday of Advent
This past liturgical year did not go as anyone would have expected. I definitely did not begin Lent planning to give up the Eucharist or celebrate the Easter Vigil dancing around my family room turning on all of the lights at the long-awaited "Alleluia!" As I wish you all a Happy Liturgical New Year, I unexpectedly find myself in my family room in quarantine once again after taking my 94-year-old grandma to the hospital. Please pray for her as she's battling COVID and pneumonia.
Advent is my favorite liturgical season because it focuses on waiting in joyful hope with the Holy Family. We are always waiting for something... always. We are always looking for hope and no matter what, we can find our identity in the Holy Family through our membership in the mystical Body of Christ. Though I have not yet experienced pregnancy, I have loved connecting with the Holy Family in new and beautiful ways each Advent. This year, I feel like quarantine is inviting me to "hunker down" and do some spiritual "nesting" in preparation for the coming of her beloved Child. I want to imagine what Mary would do in both prayerful and practical preparation in these weeks before the first Christmas morning.
I'm fascinated each year by how the Church prepares for Christmas much differently than the world. Someone I know calls himself a "countercultural instigator." There is something so pungent about that description and can describe Christians in a season like Advent. We are called to swim against the current - the tide of inpatient consumers hustling to the next thing. We are called to find peace in the process and joy in the waiting, something that does not make sense in our secular environment. The goal of the season is not to arrive at Christmas.
The goal of the season is to get to the meaning of Christmas - Christ Himself.
Though we know that the Baby Jesus was born more than 2,000 years ago, we immerse ourselves in the anticipation of the new life to come.
It is very clear by our current environment that this Advent is not like last Advent. This Christmas will not be like last Christmas.
Jesus continues to draw us into something fresh, new, and different. In The Chosen, Jesus actually tells Simon, "get used to different."
Boy is that that a motto for this year!
St. John Henry Newman commented on this Sunday's Gospel saying:
"In this text, he mercifully whispers into our ears, not to trust in what we see, not to share in the general unbelief (around us), not to be carried away by the world, but to "beware, keep alert," and look out for his coming."
I am astonished by the wisdom interwoven throughout each one of Fr. Mike Schmitz's homilies. This week was no exception as he dug into the experience of "watching and waiting." We are not called to be excited or fearful. We are called to be watchful. To watch means to be present.
Have you ever been asked, "Can you watch him/her/that for me? I'll be right back." I generally respond, "yup" and then honestly fail to be wholly attentive to the situation. I think this is mainly because I'm always trying to think or do too many things at once. Even a few moments of watchfulness can be more easily said than done. According to Galatians 5:22, patience and faithfulness are fruits of the spirit and must be cultivated. A good practice for this is to add one minute of prayer time each day of Advent. Day 1: one minute. Day 2: two minutes. etc... (thanks Fr. Gadberry!)
God is our Father who is asking us to watch for the coming of His Son. He's asking us to neither distract ourselves with other things nor fall asleep. He's asking us to simply do what we said we would do. To stay awake. To watch. To pray.
"Think of yourself just as a seed patiently wintering in the earth; waiting to come up a flower in the Gardener's good time, up into the real world, the real waking. I suppose that our whole present life, looked back on from there, will seem only a drowsy half-waking. We are here in the land of dreams. But cock-crow is coming. It is nearer now than when I began this letter." CS Lewis
When time passes, especially in 2020, it feels both fast and slow. Time sometimes feels like it drags and sometimes feels like it's gone in a blink. Like a seed growing in the ground, a baby grows in a mama's belly slowly and silently. It's easy to miss the small changes. We don't know all that the Lord is preparing for us and within us. We do know the Lord. He is good. He is our Father.
If He is good, we can trust that He gives us good things. We can trust that He is present as we freely receive each and every moment from His loving hand. We don't have to understand it. We are just called to receive it. As St. Paul says in the 2nd Reading, "God is faithful."
Esther 4:14 comes to mind as I think of embracing the present moment:
"For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
This Advent, let us wait in joyful hope not despite our circumstances but because of them. God is trustworthy and has brought us each to this moment to expect the unexpected.
Let us pray one of my favorite prayers of all time:
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability – and that it may take a very long time.
And so, I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually – let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don't try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own goodwill)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ