Quick commercial – Would greatly appreciate it if you would consider supporting the Newman Catholic Center at Montclair State in our Annaual Christmas appeal. You can read about it at http://www.msunewman.com/appeal . Many thanks for your consideration!
I usually give my mom a phone call around 10:00 every night (It’s 10:00, do you know where your mother is??? something like that) and last Saturday I was taken aback when I called and the voice on the other side didn’t sound like my mother in tone or greeting – a very abrupt “HI JIM”… Ahh.. That’s right, I had forgotten that my 11 year old niece (and Goddaughter) was sleeping over at Grandma’s last week. But she was uncharacteristically bubbly and excited for an almost 12 year old who is getting too cool for everything. I didn’t even get a chance to ask what was it that got her so excited apart from my Mother showering her with undivided attention as she was free of her two younger sisters – as she explained “Mom and Dad bought me an iPhone 7 today.”
This was quite a development in the Chern house. On Thanksgiving when Lizzie asked me to get her this very item for Christmas (explaining how thoughtful she was in asking for the cheaper model rather than the iPhone 8 or X) I responded she had a much better shot talking to Santa than to me. At which point my brother and sister in law chimed in that Santa wasn’t bringing this either and that her old hand me down iPhone 4 would have to suffice for her limited needs.
Well that phone broke (it wouldn’t charge or something) and because she has to walk her two younger sisters to school, my brother and sister in law want her to have a phone and when my sister in law went to Verizon or AT&T or wherever they go – she needed to upgrade her phone and the plan had some sort of thing that makes you think your getting a deal when you’re probably not… and the long and short of it is she got a new iPhone.
So I said I was happy for her; that now she has a newer and better phone than I have; and then I asked “what color did you get” and then her tone changed– the joy and excitement went to frustration as she said”I don’t know.” So I’m like – I didn’t think that was a trick question, just look at it… and she said “I don’t have it yet, Mom and Dad got it tonight.” Turns our her younger sister Grace had called to share the good news that her beautiful new iPhone 7 was sitting there at home on their kitchen table… Lizzie almost started repeating arguments that had failed earlier in the evening to me: how she wanted her father to drive it over to her (I know my brother, and knew that would never happen) or for Grandma to drive her over to pick it up (I know my Mother, and knew that would never happen). She would just have to wait another 15 hours to get it. My mom eventually was able to get on the phone and said “She’s making me nuts!!” Sure enough Lizzie got herself so excited and riled up, she didn’t sleep well that night, got out of bed uncharacteristically early on Sunday and wanted my Mom to bring her home a lot sooner than usual.
I was laughing thinking about the whole thing. When was the last time you were that excited about something that you had to wait for? Maybe it’s a Christmas memory from childhood… Or maybe it something more currrent – A phone call for a job that you applied for? The letter of acceptance from Montclair State University? I don’t know if I could pinpoint something specific I’ve been excited to be waiting for. Especially as I’ve gotten older, most of the time, it’s waiting on the phone for an hour on hold for customer service; or waiting in traffic… or waiting for that amazon package that I ordered on Tuesday and should have been here on Thursday but for no reason at all is somehow delayed till Friday – oh the tragedy! I guess I’m not so different from my niece after all. We don’t really enjoy waiting: In these everyday experiences… and most likely not in our spiritual lives either… If we’re even attentive to that.
This season of Advent, these four (well actually three this year) weeks of Advent are meant not simply to get in all our crazed pre-Christmas preparations before December 25th… The season of Advent is meant to call us to focus on how God comes into our lives… The promise we have heard that God will come at the end of time; The promise fulfilled in that God has come that first Christmas into human history in a significant way that forever changed human history; and the life of faith you and I are living that God comes to us here and now.
But all of those comings involved waiting. The early Christians expected Jesus ushering in the end of the world to be coming relatively quickly… 2,000 years later we’re still waiting for that final historic moment. Jesus’ first coming, that first Christmas, most of the Old Testament recounts the centuries upon centuries that the Jews were waiting for the Messiah to be born.
Jesus’ coming here and now, well, that is occurring… that is happening here and now as we celebrate this Mass, as we hear his word and receive His Body and Blood… and happens in countless other ways as we leave here and we encounter Jesus in the poor, the sick, the lonely; as we share His love and experience His love…
But, if we’re honest…really honest, we’re also still waiting for Jesus to come, for God to come into different areas of my heart, my soul, my life. I was thinking about that in a particular way with that first reading from Isaiah. How many of us could paraphrase and say Jesus I’m waiting for this valley to be filled in, this mountain and hill to be made low, this rugged land to be made plain. What are the mountains, valleys, hills in your life… What is rugged that you’re looking to be made plain. Maybe it’s something like: Jesus I want this stress this anxiety to be lifted… Jesus I want this pain to be healed…. Jesus I want this anger to be abated… Jesus I want this grief to be relieved. And we wait. And it stinks…. doesn’t it.
But, part of the problem, unlike my niece who the next morning knew eventually what she was waiting for was going to be there waiting for her on the table – how many of us truly believe that Jesus wants to answer those prayers, those cries, those longings that touch the deepest parts of our heats and souls. And even more importantly, what are we doing while we wait for those answers? Are we sitting here idly, simply waiting, expecting Jesus to come in and fix everything? Because if that’s the case, it’s no wonder that doubts will start to emerge, fears will cement and distractions multiply as we start looking for someone, something else to answer those needs.
In the Gospel, we learned how people went to listen to John the Baptist’s preaching. They were waiting the coming of the Messiah – to answer the hopes and dreams of their ancestors, the promises that God had made… but what did they do as they waited? They came to for John’s baptism which was an opportunity to acknowledge their sins and repent of them – to turn away from that old way of life and start anew. Yes they heard that the Messiah was coming and there response was to recognize the areas in their lives that they needed to make changes in order to prepare a way for the Lord to enter.
Our being here means that yes, in some place, in some way, in some part of ourselves, we too recognize our need for the Messiah to come… for Jesus to answer our deepest longings. So John the Baptist’s words are turned to us in this proclamation tonight as he says -“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” We start by recognizing what needs cleansing, what needs, restoration, what needs order, what needs forgiveness and then getting to work on it.
What is that for you? – Do you need to go deeper in your prayer? Do you need to do a thorough examination of conscience, look at the messes, the mistakes, the failures, the sins in your life that you’ve wanted to simply forget about, but they have that frustrating way of just popping up over and over again (the devil loves to torment us with our pasts). Do you need to do that and get to confession so that you can hear Jesus words of complete forgiveness? Do you need to encounter Jesus in being loving, being merciful, being generous to someone in need. Most likely we all can answer yes to all of these to some extent and countless more.
Whatever the work it is that we need to engage in, we start to discover Jesus as our companion. He meets me in that prayer… He’s there in that peace I experience after making that long-put off confession; He’s there when I’ve reconciled with that person I had written off… He’s there when I’ve shared with or cared for someone not in any position to reciprocate.
One of the hope filled messages today’s scriptures tells us is that God is about to do new things, extraordinary things… just as he has done since the dawn of time… just as he did in every page of scripture… just as he has done in each of our lives up to this very moment. When we actively pursue him, we find he’s not been that hard to find… and in fact, He has been our active companion and guide. Then the waiting will be forgotten by the real knowledge of His presence among and within us.