THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT (YEAR A)
Jesus Gives Fulfillment in Life
Appreciating and Accepting Jesus as:
“Son of David” — the fulfillment of all God’s promises
Where do I seek my fulfillment in life? What am I focused on? What do I think about, dream about, most often? What do I think God can or will do for me? Is it what he really promised? (This is not just our question; Jesus asks this of every person on earth. See John 1:38).
The Entrance Antiphon puts words in our mouth that invite us to ask if they are really in our hearts: “To you, my God, I lift up my soul… No one who waits for you is ever put to shame (or disappointed).” How often do I really “lift up my soul” to God
In the Opening Prayer we ask God to “increase our strength of will” – that is, motivate us — so that “Christ may find an eager welcome” in our hearts. But what do we ask God to motivate us to do? It is to “lift up our hearts” in longing for Christ, in expectation that Jesus will open to us the way to fulfillment in life, the way to happiness on this earth as well as in heaven. (Before the Preface we will be invited again: “Lift up your hearts!” and we will answer, “We lift them up to the Lord”).
What does it mean to “lift up our hearts”? The Alternate Opening Prayer tells us. It means to tell God consciously that “our hearts desire the warmth of your love.” Telling God this makes us aware of it.
We also need to tell him, “Our minds are searching for the light of your Word.” We have to realize that this is what our minds really are searching for.
Whether we are conscious of it or not, our minds are constantly scanning all of reality, monitoring all our experiences, looking for something to settle on: a truth to rest in, a goal that promises satisfaction, a desire that fills the soul.
St. Augustine said: “Our hearts are restless, O God, and they shall not rest until they rest in Thee!” If we know this consciously, and explicitly affirm it in our minds, it will “increase our longing for Christ our Savior.” We will have a clear picture of fulfillment to focus on. (The answer the human heart spontaneously gives when Jesus asks, “What are you looking for?” is “Where does God dwell?” See John 1:38).
There is hope:
Isaiah 2:1-5 announces that our desires, our longings to be filled and satisfied by God, are not just hopeless illusions. God promises to come “pitch his tent” among us, to take up residence on earth in a place where we can find him.
The “Lord’s house” shall be established on the mountain top, where everyone can see it. And “all nations shall stream toward it.” Now, to those who ask, “Lord, where do you dwell?” he answers, “Come and see” (see John 1:38-39).
Why do we come to church? What are we looking for on Sunday mornings? Isaiah tells us we come because our hearts within us are saying, “Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways and we may walk in his paths.”
If we learn God’s ways and walk in his paths, it is not just interior satisfaction and personal peace that we will experience. We will also find hope that there can be peace in the world, “peace on earth.”
We will find reason to hope that the divisions and violence in our world can be replaced by unity and love. In the measure that all nations begin to “walk in the light of the Lord,” people will begin to “beat their swords into ploughshares.” The senseless outpouring of national resources into the “arms race,” the production of weapons of mass destruction, will stop. Nor will we “train for war again.” Instead of living in fear and preoccupation with “national security,” we will “go rejoicing to the house of the Lord” (Responsorial Psalm).
There will be “peace within our walls, prosperity in our buildings.” When we have chosen to be “brothers and sisters and friends” to all people, the Lord will say, “Peace be within you.”
Matthew 24:37-44 is a wake-up call. It may be that, like ordinary people in our culture, we have been caught up in “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage,” earning a living, taking care of our physical fitness, keeping the house clean, getting the car repaired, shopping, paying bills, getting the kids off to school and driving them to doctors’ appointments and sporting events, coping with a boss or with customers, and just trying to find a little relaxation at the end of the day.
But in the Gospel Jesus calls us to lift up our heads as well as our hearts; not to be buried and blinded by details. Jesus calls us to keep our faces above water, to look around, to be aware of the larger picture, to think about where we are going, what we are looking for in life, how it is all going to end.
God is out there also. But God doesn’t just stay “out there.” He comes to us constantly. He comes to us repeatedly, “at an hour you do not expect,” with inspirations and invitations, with enlightenment and encouragement. If we expect to recognize and respond to God when he comes to us at the hour of death, we need to recognize him and respond to him when he comes to us every day. “Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day [or at which moment of every day] your Lord will come.”
This is what Advent is all about. It is a time to shake ourselves free from encumbering preoccupations, to look around and to look up. It is a time to take stock, to look within our hearts and see what we find there: what desires, what longings, what faith and hope in their fulfillment. It is a time to look intently at the promises of God. It is a time to respond to love with love. It is a time to think about time.
If we act:
Romans 13:11-14 summons us to act in response to God’s message of hope. “It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep!” With a motivation born of new hope we will find the “strength of will” to “throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
If we have learned to “lift up our hearts to the Lord,” and to seek our true joy in “the warmth of his love” and “the light of his Word,” our driving desire will be to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is to seek fulfillment where it can be found.
Our goal will be union with Jesus, identification with him as his own body on earth, as sharers in his divine life. We will hear the goal, the focus, and the promise of our existence in the words of the Greeting at Mass: “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (the favor of sharing in God’s own life), and the love of God, and fellowship (communion) in the Holy Spirit be with you all!”
What we will focus on now in our work, our social life, our personal development; what we will think about and dream about most often, will be to grow into a greater experience of grace, into a deeper experience of love, into an all-embracing communion of mind and will and heart with God and with all people in the “fellowship of the Holy Spirit.”
We will be more attuned to the voice of our own hearts crying, “Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways and we may walk in his paths.” This is the path to fulfillment.
Do I really believe that by interacting with Jesus, I can find more fulfillment in my home life? Social life? School or professional life? What would this change?
How can I — no, how will I — use the time of Advent to make all my time on earth more fulfilling? (This is the time for some concrete choices!)