for the 1st Sunday of Advent, Cycle C
December 3, 2006
The lighting of the first candle on our Advent wreath is a visual reminder, not only that this is our liturgical New Yearís Day but also that we are entering upon what can and should be a very special time for us individually and as a community of living faith.. These Advent days are packed with spiritual riches waiting to be claimed. But right there, of course, is the challenge. How can we so use them that when they are over we can look back and say: "Iíve risen to the challenge! Iíve claimed for myself the spiritual enrichment of this holy season!
As I searched out some way to help you do just that I found myself remembering something that I came across not long ago in a book entitled: "Manís Search for Meaning" ... a volume well worn around the edges but one worth re-reading. It was written by the famous Jewish psychologist and survivor of the Nazi death camps, Dr. Viktor Frankl. In it, he tells of a patient of his, a lady who was troubled by a persistent dream. Night after night, she found herself fighting her way through an impeding crowd. "I knew in what direction I must go," she said, "because I was guided by a light in the sky." At first, it was vague and diffused, but as she struggled toward it, it grew clearer and she recognized the figure of Christ. Again and again, she reached out to touch Him - but again and again, she was shouldered aside. Always there was something or someone to block her way.
I donít know how successfully Dr. Frankl handled her frustration... Obviously she must have been a believing Christian and I would not be surprised if, when this Mass is over, one or other of you, were to come to me and say: "I know something of what she was going through - not that I shared the dream but rather, the frustration - always reaching out - questing for Christ, never getting as close to Him as I want to be."
A quest for Christ" - those few words really capture the reality - not just of this special season but of our whole life as a people who claim the name of Christian. We are Christ-Seekers. Like the shepherds answering the angelsí summons or the Magi following their light in the sky like the beckoning finger of God, we are a questing people and our quest is Christ. To find Our Lord - to reach out and to claim Him for our own, to allow ourselves to be claimed by Him - this is our Christian purpose - our ultimate success or our failure.
Is not this the constant theme of all the Churchís liturgy, all through the year but especially in this season of Advent and Christmas - not two seasons but really one. Our celebration of Christmas is empty of meaning unless it celebrates not only Our Lordís Coming to us but also our coming to Christ. This is not an easy quest to which we are called nor is it a taken-for-granted success. Like the lady with her dream, we confront more than our share of obstacles, all conspiring to becloud our guiding light and impede our Christmas-Coming to Christ.
It would be digressive here to explore all the road-blocks which can complicate our Advent effort. We have only to reflect back on the too-many times when we found ourselves on the threshold of the Nativity of Jesus spiritually unprepared because we let yet another Advent get away from us without any real effort on our part to fill it with a holy expectancy. Make no mistake about it - your Advent and mine will be just what we really want it to be.
Going back to that lady and her dream. Remember how she followed the light and at the end she found that the light was Christ. And so, too, with us - we must lift up our eyes to Our Lord and allow Him to be for us our Guiding Light. But how do we do that? What practical expedient can I suggest which will foster in us a sense of urgency - a Christmas eagerness to press forward in quest of our Radiant Christ?
I do have an answer - a practical expedient - something you can do and I can do which will go far to guarantee our joyful and prayerful Christmas coming to Christ Who comes to us and for us.
Most of you, I am sure, are familiar with what is called The Jesus Prayer - a devotional practice which finds its origin in the Scriptures themselves and in the earliest expressions of our holy faith. Both the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of St. Paul bear witness to the prayerful power of Jesusí Name. In his letter to the Philippians, the apostle urges those first century brothers and sisters in the family of the faith: "At the name of Jesus, every knee must bend and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God that Jesus Christ is Lord." St. Bernard of Clairvaux tells us that no word we can speak is more powerful or more pleasing to God than the name of Jesus. Indeed, early on in the Eastern Church, a "Jesus Prayer" became the center-piece of a whole school of contemplative spirituality - a Christian mantra disengaging the devout from the material world and leading the soul deep into a profound experience of God. Over the centuries, different expressions of the Jesus Prayer have emerged , all expressing our faith in the Power of the Name and centering our hearts and our lives on Our Lord.
What I have to offer you this morning is very simply a Christmas variation on the Jesus Prayer. I found my inspiration for it in two scripture passages: in the first place, Our Blessed Lordís own promise at the Last Supper: "If anyone love Me, My Father will love him and we will come to him and make our home with him." - and a similar passage in St. Paulís letter to the Ephesians: "May Christ dwell in your hearts by faith and may love be the root and foundation of your lives." The "love" of which the apostle spoke was surely our ardent, personal love of Jesus - the "root and foundation" of our lives. Those two passages enshrine for us the truth that every day is an Advent Day - a day on which Jesus is asking entrance into your heart and mine. How better can we welcome Him than by this making our own this Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, born of the Virgin Mary, find a home in my heart." I invite you to make this your Advent prayer - your first prayer in the morning and your last prayer at night... and now and then during the day use it to fill up a quiet moment. I guarantee it can make the Christmas Difference.
"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, born of the Virgin Mary, Find a Home in My Heart."