Anyone else feel like we’re living in some kind of weird time suspended state or something right now? It’s like this strange, world-wide Orwellian dystopia in which the world as we knew it seems turned inside out. Right is wrong, up is down. We’re all being put under house arrest and forced to cover our faces, prohibited from gathering with family or friends for fun and laughter and even holidays, even prohibited in gathering for worship. Our so-called leaders tell us that it’s our “patriotic duty” to submit to these oppressive tactics of our government.
Things are weird right now.
And, do you know what is wonderful?
The timing of Advent could not be more perfect right now. Advent is the beginning of the Christian year. It is a time of hope and anticipation, but not just any hope and anticipation; it is the hope and anticipation of One who will come and set right the things that are wrong. Justice will prevail, the final reign of the Christ will conquer all evil, hope and promise and goodness will rain down from His being soaking everything in holiness and wholeness.
Man, don’t we need that right now?! I’m reminded of what Legolas says in The Lord of the Rings, “Oft hope is born when all is forlorn.”
It feels like we’re living in a time when all is forlorn. There is trouble in the world and our human society. There is trouble in the Church with corruption inundating and apparent capitulation to the world from some of our bishops.
It feels forlorn.
What a perfect time for hope!
Advent has traditionally been a time marked by the Church to celebrate the anticipation of the birth of Jesus Christ but also to mark the anticipation of the second coming of the Christ. The emotions expressed in our texts this week help us to feel this way as well; a longing, a yearning for something outside ourselves to come and save us.
Consider our Old Testament text, Isaiah 63:16-17, 19, 64:2-7.
We see here the longing for the return of “our father, our redeemer.” We get a sense that we don’t want to go back to the way it was in “the beginning, when thou didst not rule over us, and when we were not called by thy name.” There was a time when things didn’t make sense, the prophet says, when God didn’t rule over us and we had no identity and that was a dark time. But if we wait for our father and redeemer we, like the people of Israel can say with the prophet, “From the beginning of the world they have not heard, nor perceived with the ears: the eye hath not seen, O God, besides thee, what things thou has prepared for them that wait for thee.”
Wait for Him.
The Psalmist reminds us that our waiting is not for some vague esoteric reality. Rather, the reward of our waiting is our very salvation. Look at Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19.
“Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.”
We read this twice. It is repeated so that we may notice it, pay attention to it, meditate upon it. Turn us again. Return to us again, the Psalmist cries, and let us see your face. And the result of His return? We shall be saved. Our waiting is not in vain. Our waiting, our hope is for the salvation of our souls. It is more than just peace or no more sickness and no more death. It is so much more than we can even imagine. It is the very salvation we so desperately need. It is the antidote to forlorn. “Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine: and we shall be saved.”
Wait for salvation.
In our gospel text, Jesus, the very One we’ve been waiting for, reminds us to “take heed, watch and pray.” We see this in St. Mark’s gospel 13:33-37. Like the parable, Jesus has gone into a far country and has given his authority to his servants over every work of the Church and commanded us to watch and pray. He may come at any moment or he may tarry long in that far country. It is our responsibility to wait faithfully.
Wait in prayer.
Finally, St. Paul reminds us, in 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, that we are to wait in the grace of Christ for the day of his coming. In Him we are made rich, through the confirmation of the life of Christ in us as we await His return. And how can we be sure? I mean, it’s been a long time and things aren’t going so well so how can we be sure? St. Paul tells us, “God is faithful: by whom you are called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” We can be sure because God is faithful.
Wait in assurance.
Two of the greatest writers and thinkers in the English language, I believe, are JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis. Their story telling has been profoundly impactful for me and many others. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is a masterful telling of the salvation of the world. Tolkien, a devout Catholic, was also good friends with Lewis. Lewis’ telling of the story of salvation in The Chronicles of Narnia is wonderful. I grew up reading those books, not really understanding the story I was reading. As an adult, I have come to love the mythical beauty of both these writers.
The major figure in all the Narnia chronicles is the mysterious lion Aslan, who is a clear personification in mythical form of the Christ. He always comes and goes and disappears for apparently centuries at a time…much like Jesus. He has come and gone in one form or another (theophanies of the OT come to mind) until He was incarnated in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. And He’s been gone now for a long time.
Like Narnia, Advent reminds us that Good will come again. We read, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,
“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”
The King will return and when He does, there will be no more winter in our souls. Only the sunlight and warmth of His love and the strength of His embrace.
Come quickly Lord Jesus!
Thy people await thee.
Our society, especially in the West, is an instant gratification society. We don’t want to wait for anything. Truth be told, we really don’t want to work for much either. We want what we want and we want it now.
Listen, I’m just as guilty of this as the next person. I’m not really sure when that happened for me. I mean, I grew up in a culture (country of Zambia on the African continent) that nothing was instant. It took a hot minute to do anything and everything. But somewhere along the way, I fell into this instant trap as well.
We don’t want to wait for anything.
I’m struck by the tone of anticipation and the anticipatory language of our texts for this week’s readings. I invite you to read them:
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Notice the language:
Don’t be unaware.
Our world lulls us into the opposite of all these things. We watch. But we watch Fox News or CNN or the latest thing streaming on Netflix or our phones. What we don’t watch is Christ. We gaze into the bottomless pit of social media instead of gazing into the face of Christ. I’m reminded of Christ’s Passion. In the garden, during His agony, He told Sts Peter, James and John to “watch and pray.”
What are you watching for?
Be vigilant. We are lulled into drowsy comfort by our full bellies and conditioned homes. Please don’t misunderstand me. I am grateful for the stuff that God has blessed me with and I enjoy living in a comfortable home. But our 1st world comforts have glassed over our eyes and we are no longer vigilant. The vigilance of concentrated prayer and study of God’s Word no longer keeps our attention. Speaking personally for me, this is one of the things that has attracted me to pursue a “monastic” prayer life. I utilize the Monastic Diurnal for my daily prayers and have found it be vastly helpful in this realm for me. I am forced to be vigilant and pay attention. I have also begun praying the Rosary in Latin which, again, forces my attention and vigilance.
Be vigilant. Don’t be unaware. Be ready. Stay awake.
And what is the result of all this waiting, all this vigilance, all this awareness?
Look at our reading from Wisdom. We see how wisdom is personified (we’ll come back to that). Wisdom is the result, the outcome, the gift of the waiting. As we wait, as we watch, as we gaze upon the face of Christ in prayer and study of His Word, we see. The promise of wisdom is fulfilled in the waiting. The promise of wisdom is more than “knowledge.” The promise of wisdom is the personification of wisdom.
The promise is the person of Jesus the Christ.
Jesus Himself tells us this in our gospel reading today. The wise virgins were vigilant and ready. They were prepared with the oil of patience to fill their lamps. They were awake and ready when the bridegroom arrived. Just as we must be awake, watching and waiting and gazing into the face of Christ as we meditate in prayer and upon His Word.
Wake up, slumbering Church! Be vigilant, Bride of Christ! Your Bridegroom cometh to claim His Bride! Will He find us ready? Will He find us vigilant and prepared, meditating upon His Word? Will He find us filled with the oil of hope and patience as we await His coming?
Church, let us watch. Let us be vigilant in prayer. Let us not be unaware and lulled into sleep and comfort by the distractions of the world. Let us be ready and stay awake, watching and praying.
The Bridegroom cometh! He cometh with the shout of victory and the joy of His Bride!
Thanks be to God!