“For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Saint Paul, addressing the Romans, puts before them a holy challenge to be awake and aware of the closeness of the Lord.
Today as we celebrate the First Sunday of Advent, a day the universal church begins its new liturgical year, we too begin again. For these weeks of Advent, we reflect on the great hope that God is with us. Not only is God with us but He is the light that conquers the darkness in our lives. Jesus who is the light of the world, who has loved us from the beginning, invites us again to be renewed in this season of hope; to be rooted once again in His unconditional and redeeming love.
We turn our attention once again to the three arrivals of Christ: his first, 2000 years ago; his final, sometime in the future, and his ongoing one in the present, through his grace, his providence, and the sacraments. When we turn our attention to these arrivals of Christ, we will see something new, something different. We are called to be attentive in this joyful penitential season—to move from darkness to light—to listen, watch, and wait on the Lord.
One of my favorite childhood memories is of my father and me on a hot August summer night at our family’s camp in rural Maine. The cottage was a place filled with happy childhood memories of my grandparents and all my cousins. We had a rustic cottage, an outhouse, and barely running water and we loved it. It was a change for us as we “roughed it” for a few weeks on our family vacations. This particular Summer night when I was about eight years old my Dad asked if I wanted to go out for a walk in our field and look at the stars to try to glimpse a shooting star. The area is very forested with minimal surface light from street lights or automobiles so it is VERY dark sky. As my Dad and I laid in the field our eyes acclimated and suddenly we could see the canopy of stars above. I was a very excitable kid and I kept talking about the stars, the planets, wondering if we’d see a shooting star. My Dad would respond with a calmer tone and he’d say how beautiful and vast the universe is and that God created all of this for all of us. I would respond with more and more excitement. I recall my Dad saying, “Shhh…let’s not talk…just listen…and watch.” It made no sense to me. However, sitting in the silence I was more aware of my smallness and the skies vastness, the light that the moon was casting, the sounds of the forest. And then we saw a spectacular shooting star. In fact, we would see several that night. It is such a memorable snapshot from my childhood. It was also an important life lesson from my Dad: listen and watch. I’m reminded as an adult that I need to often quiet myself down and listen; I’m then able to see things more clearly.
Martin Luther King Jr. prophetically said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” This profound sentiment embraces the spirit of Advent and the spirit of Christ—the One who came to put an end to sin and final death, to bring life. Jesus in our Gospel today speaks to his disciples and us: “Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” This season of preparation for the Birth of Christ should cause us to pause to have perspective on our relationship with the Lord and make space in our hearts and lives to bring His Light where there may be shadows of sin and selfishness. God’s love wants to break through the darkness so that we may be redeemed and be made new in his promises—this is our great hope.
Pope Emeritus Benedict’s Encyclical Spe Salvi reminds us: “If this absolute love exists, with its absolute certainty, then - only then - is man ‘redeemed’ whatever should happen to him in his particular circumstances. Man's great, true hope which holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God - God who has loved us and who continues to love us to the end, until all is accomplished".
May we take in the grace of this season—quieting ourselves so that we may watch and listen for the Lord who is already present in our midst. God is close and that brings much rejoicing. Our responsorial psalm today echoes the intimate proximity of God and our response: “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.”
So, “let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day” for our salvation is near.