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Terrance KleinNovember 23, 2022
James Kovin on Unsplash

A Homily for the First Sunday of Advent

Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5 Romans 13:11-14 Mark 24:37-44

In the Hollander translation, Dante’s Divine Comedy begins:

Midway in the journey of our life
I came to myself in a dark wood,
For the straight way was lost (“Inferno,” 1.1).

It is perhaps the primordial moment of the spiritual life, a sudden sense that we have lost the way and now must find it again. It is repeated in so many narrative masterpieces.

Think of Shakespeare’s King Lear realizing that his daughters have always loved his power more than his person. Better to seek his new way in a raging storm than to shelter with snakes. Buffeted by wind, he screams into the rain,

You see here, you gods, a poor old man,
As full of grief as age, wretchèd in both.
If it be you that stirs these daughters’ hearts
Against their father, fool me not so much
To bear it tamely. Touch me with noble anger,
And let not women’s weapons, water drops,
Stain my man’s cheeks (2.2.445-452).

Or consider Ebenezer Scrooge, waking from his horrible dreams, realizing that his stingy life of selfishness has been the real nightmare.

Yes! The bedpost was his own. The bed was his own, the room was his own. Best and happiest of all, the Time before him was his own, to make amends in!
“I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!” Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed. “The Spirit of all Three shall strive within me. Oh Jacob Marley! Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this. I say it on my knees, old Jacob, on my knees.

This is the way with grace. Without it, our suffering seems destined never to cease. Only when grace makes an entrance do we recognize that we have been lost, that life was meant to be better than we have known it.

It is a horrible feeling, knowing that we are lost. Yet it is a grace because we were long lost without knowing it. Only the insight is new, and it is one of God’s great mercies.

Having made my way down the cultural ladder, here is a visual image of what it is like to lose the ground under us. The roadrunner’s legs are swirling circles as he beep-beeps his way ahead. The coyote chases him—Tom Cruise style, both legs and arms pumping—only to run off a cliff. Oops! Lost the way somewhere.

Of course, we cannot force insight upon ourselves. We must wait for the moment when we fall off a cliff or find ourselves relieved that we can still wake up from nightmares, when those whom we dearly love bitterly disappoint us or when we realize that we do not know our way out of the woods.

It is a horrible feeling, knowing that we are lost. Yet it is a grace because we were long lost without knowing it. Only the insight is new, and it is one of God’s great mercies.

Grace is always a gift. We neither earn it nor can we command its appearance. But in Advent we are told to attend its coming. More than that, we are to yearn for it.

Brothers and sisters:
You know the time;
it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.
For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed;
the night is advanced, the day is at hand (Rom 13:11-12).

Christmas breaks a lot of hearts because it drives home the distance between how life is and how our hearts, deep down, know that it should be. In her wisdom, the church gives us the season of Advent to prepare for Christmas. Before the chimes of Christmas morning churn out our salty tears, we can at least pray for the awareness, however scary, that we have lost our way.

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