Nov 29, 2014

First Sunday of Advent: Patience is a virtue

Is 63: 16B-17;19B; 64: 2-7
1 Cor 1: 3-9
Mk 13: 33-37
We say that patience is a virtue and indeed it is.  Yet, how often do we pray for an increase in patience?  It’s the one prayer that God always answers because he takes his time about it and in the process teaches us to be patient. 

Yet, it isn’t exactly a popular American virtue.  We are not a patient people are we?  Have you driven on the highway recently or found another car behind you about three inches from your rear bumper at 70 miles an hour urging you to get out of the way?  Have you recently waited in line to buy something and found yourself feeling anxious because the person in front of you took another 20 seconds longer than you expected?

Or how about the American custom called “Black Friday?” Stores opened earlier this year than ever it seemed.  Not only before sunrise the day after Thanksgiving but on the evening of Thanksgiving itself!  Why?  - Because we have no patience to wait for the best bargain. I think we have no patience because we don’t need to have it – we expect to have everything instantly and if we have to wait another 30 seconds it seems like an eternity. In some ways we have become consumed by our own consumer mentality.

So what are we to do about Advent which is all about patiently waiting for the coming of the Lord.  Our Jewish brothers and sisters kept the hope of the coming Messiah alive for hundreds of years and passed that hope down generation to generation.  We hear of their Biblical patience in our first reading from Isaiah this Sunday: “Oh that you might rend (tear open) the heavens and come down . . . would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways! . . . for you have hidden your face from us . . . Yet O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay . . . the work of your hands.”

Writing about 600 years before the coming of Jesus that hope was already expressed among the people; that God would one day “rend” the heavens and come down to save them.  That would mean, to bring it home somewhat, that in the year 1414 we would have an expressed hope that we still speak of in the year 2014.  Now that’s patience par excel lance!

Advent, in my estimation, is the Church’s gift to us in this hectic and impatient modern world which encourages instant gratification to step back and take our time.  It offers us the opportunity to let go of expectations about instant everything and to re-order our priorities both about our Christian life and how we live it.  God does not look at time the way we humans do so if we assume that God thinks as we do we would be short sighted indeed. 

Yet, the words of the Gospel from Mark this Sunday offer us a wakeup call: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come . . . whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning.”  What time are we waiting for? I can’t wait – I don’t have the time to wait. Let’s move it along.

We must put aside such an attitude this Advent if we are going to appreciate the richness of this somewhat short season.  We have about three and a half weeks of grace offered to us this year to reflect on the profound implications of God’s entry into human history, which is the meaning of the Christmas season. We are offered the grace to live in trust before a God who invites us to slow down and ponder for a moment what this means for me personally and for humanity in general.

That’s a tall task however.  It seems the world either hasn’t heard the good news yet or if they did, they forgot and busied themselves with creating war, poverty, self-satisfaction, and the attitude that religion is somehow an enemy to the more progressive values of secular society.  Sadly, that which we enjoy so much in our daily lives, technology, has also contributed to this challenging perception that what is new today is old tomorrow.

So, Advent is upon us but you will likely not see any signs of it outside our Churches. What can we do?  What should we do about it?

Let’s try living in the present moment rather than anticipating the future.  “Be watchful” the Gospel reminds us as we begin this season.  Be watchful for God’s presence in our daily life.  If we live in anticipation of what our next thing is, we miss the God who speaks to us NOW. 

Practice patience.  That’s easier said than done many times but live a day simply in deliberate attention.  Intentionally carve out some time to pray with the scriptures or the Sunday readings, slowly and prayerfully.  How is God present to you in prayer? We are rarely deliberately mindful of our precious time.

If you haven’t done so already, delay sending Christmas cards until at least the middle of December.  Pray for the people on your list of family and friends who will receive those cards.

Dress your home somewhere in the violet color of Advent.  Christmas tree up already? Don’t turn on the lights for two weeks and just wait.  Instead, light a candle each week in anticipation of the Lord’s coming.

Spend some time with a frail loved one who moves slowly and who’s daily life is far less “exciting” than yours.

As we prepare to remember Christ’s coming 2,000 years ago, take some time to find him today. 

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.
Collect of Mass - Roman Missal)