Peace be with you and welcome to our celebration of the Mass for the 1st Sunday of Advent and Happy New Year! You know, if this weren’t the “Year of Weird” as I’ve started calling it, you’d have come into a much fuller Church today, with no blue tape on the pews, and found brand new Missalettes with 2021 printed on the covers, ready to pick up and use during our celebration of our first Advent Mass. At least we do have the Advent Wreath present with the first candle burning to signal the beginning of this special season and the beginning of a new liturgical year.
So, as I started meditating on Advent 2021 and got ready to write a homily for this weekend, I couldn’t help thinking about how completely different everything is from last year at this very same time. At first my mind dwelt on all of the bad; businesses closed, jobs lost, illnesses, deaths, a complete disruption of our “normal” American – gosh, I’d have to say our whole global, lifestyle. A general worldwide atmosphere of anxiety, bewilderment, or even fear. If you’d asked me a year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what “social distancing” really even meant.
Then you know what happened? As I sat there thinking about all of the negatives, I sort of got a big spiritual tap on the shoulder. As I reread all three of today’s readings a question formed in my heart, “Paul really, what is Advent supposed to be all about anyway?” Friends, just think about how you’ve spent most of your Advent Seasons in past years? Have you ever known people who’ve said they’re glad when Christmas was finally over so they could slow down and relax? Have you ever been there yourself? I know I have and, I’ll have to admit, it wasn’t my spiritual activities that consumed all my time either.
I once heard a somewhat cynical old Priest say this during his Advent Homily, “Most Catholics really only recognize two liturgical seasons, Lent and not-Lent.” Well, here we are in the “not-Lent” Season of Advent 2021. My sisters and brothers, here’s what I’m going to personally do, and I would challenge you to do the same thing during this very unusual Advent Season we find ourselves in. It’s really what all of us should have been doing during every single Advent Season past but maybe this year we’re being given an opportunity to slow down and make it a reality. I’m going to get in touch with the fact that I’m not, yet the person God wants me to be and – I need a savior.
Nothing could be more appropriate for Advent, as we prepare to celebrate birth of Christ, our Lord and Savior, then the hymn we hear over and over during this special season, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here.” Now, if we flash back to last year’s Advent Season with our days jammed full of Christmas shopping, social events, new movie premiers, and overall holiday preparations, the song’s lyrics might have just pleasantly gone in one ear and out the other. This year however, I’m moving a little slower and for me personally, the hymn’s words resonate a little deeper in my heart. I need a savior.
St Augustine once said we’re all in the grip of the lust to self-dominate. Now, some 1600 years later, we literally live in a society that encourages us to focus almost totally on ourselves. A society that encourages the lust to self-dominate. What’s in it for me? Who are you to tell me what to do? I’m beautiful, and your words can’t bring me down. I’m OK, you’re OK. They are all little mantras 21st Century Americans love to embrace, and they are all counter to the heart of Biblical teaching. It seems humanity is a big dysfunctional family that needs intervention. For this, we all need a savior. O come, O come Emmanuel.
With the first reading we heard today from the 63rd Chapter of Isaiah, the Church has given us a keynote address for Advent. We heard, “Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways.” As I meditate on this simple phrase I pray, O Lord let me enter into the knowledge and feeling that I have wondered from the path you want me to walk. I need the grace and discernment to recognize the path that will fulfill your plan for my creation, and I need the grace to follow that path. For this, I need a savior. Again, we heard, “Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful.” As I meditate on this simple phrase O God, I know in my heart your anger is not the anger of man, but it is a loving passion to set things right. I know O God; you burn with a loving passion to put us all in right relationship with you. For this, we need a savior. Finally, we heard, “We are the clay and you the potter. We are all the work of your hands.” With this simple phrase O God, you are perhaps asking the most difficult of all. You are asking me to surrender my will to be shaped by your hands. For this, I need a savior.
My friends, I hope you see what the biggest challenge for us all during this Advent Season is. We must, must all recognize the absolute need for a savior. Perhaps most critical in the recognition of our need for a savior is, however, we are not talking exclusively about Jesus Christ, but about God. God is eternally a Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus of Nazareth was not some free-floating holy man. Jesus was both fully divine and fully human, but if the fully human Jesus is not God incarnate, then salvation is not from God after all. If Jesus is not the second person of the Trinitarian Godhead as attested to in the Nicene Creed, then God’s self was not directly involved in the manger at Bethlehem nor the Cross on Golgotha.
So, your homework is, do everything you can during this Advent Season to increase the feeling and need to be saved by God from a sinful world. And as you prayerfully visualize your savior, Jesus Christ, go beyond the cute little baby in the manger but also remember the bloody, battered body on the cross. That is the unimaginable demonstration of the love that saved us all. O God, I need a savior.