As December approaches, each day’s demands grow exponentially. I find myself tackling my To-Do List from the time I awake each morning to the time I retire each night. It was a quick stop at the Jewel last weekend which reminded me that Thanksgiving was just a few days off. Because we gathered at our son’s home, my husband and I didn’t have to shop for a turkey this year. It was the inviting display of pumpkin pies that reminded me of Thursday’s holiday. Since I’ve written a book of Advent, Christmas and winter reflections, one would think that I’m well-prepared for the onset of the holiday season. The truth is that I’ve already started to write for Lent 2012, which causes my focus on Advent 2011 to be skewed at best. So it is that I’m determined to get with the program by attending very closely to everything around me this First Sunday of Advent.
As I enter church, our Advent Wreath catches my eye. Purple and pink candles call our attention to the four weeks ahead. The green accents that marked the hope of Ordinary Time have given way to purple. With our hope intact, Advent’s violet hues beckon us to embrace the passionate sentiments of the weeks to come. Through the scripture readings, we retrace the steps of the Israelites who cried out to God in their misery only to receive God’s comfort in response again and again. Our hymns call us to wake up and prepare. We search our hearts and adjust our priorities to make room for God to dwell among us and within us. Today, even the most familiar prayers of the Mass demand our attention as we recite from the new translation of the Roman Missal for the first time. This Advent 2011, we’re challenged to invite God into every aspect of our lives.
I’m most grateful for Advent’s arrival. This season has given me reason to slow down –at least while I’m in church– and to remember that I’m not alone in enduring the trials and tribulations of this life. For as long as God’s children have walked this earth, life among us has been difficult at best. The pain we experience when the circumstances of our lives run amok is as ancient as the scriptures. Poor Isaiah speaks from his own intense suffering in today’s first reading (Isaiah 63:16-17; 64:2-7). In spite of the effort he puts into his relationship with God, Isaiah wells up with anger and doubt. He fumes over the Israelites’ continued unfaithfulness to God. He simply can’t stand by and watch their evildoing any longer. Isaiah fumes even more vigorously at the Lord God who seems content to step back to observe as the people engage in their iniquity. Isaiah glares heavenward and asks, “Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?” In the face of the many personal and societal ills that besiege us all these days, you and I may be inclined to pose the same question to God for ourselves: “If You don’t want things to be this way, why do You allow it?” Fortunately, Isaiah moves past his anger and uncertainty toward the One who has been listening all the while. In the depths of his heart, Isaiah realizes that he and the rest of God’s children have never been alone in any of this. The prophet prays, “Yet, O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you are the potter: we are the work of your hands.” Because we are the most beloved work of God’s hands, God remains with us just as God remained with Isaiah as we face all that lies ahead.
This First Sunday of Advent, we gather around God’s family table where God reminds us that we are in good Company as we journey to Christmas. Just as God was present in the best and worst of Israel’s history, God is present in the moments of our lives. Just as God placed Isaiah in the midst of Israel’s troubles to improve things as best Isaiah could, God places you and me in the midst of this world’s troubles to do the same. It occurs to me that your and my Advent To-do Lists are actually Advent Opportunity Lists. Whether we find ourselves on the arm of our elderly parent or of our unyielding child, whether we suffer with an impossible job or an endless job search, whether we are sick in body or sick in spirit, whether we long for peace in this world or peace in our own homes, each of us struggles to find our way, one moment at a time. It is during difficult moments that we must imitate Isaiah by acknowledging God’s presence. When we’re tempted to curse the heavens, we must remember Isaiah’s prayer to the Potter who created us for these very moments. When we open our eyes and our hearts to God who knows our troubles better than we know them ourselves, we will somehow manage the tasks before us. These moments of Grace in which we find God at are sides –these are what we prepare for this Advent 2011. These are what we look forward to in the things to come.
©2011 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved