November 27, 2016
+ I have realized this in my life: there are two types of people in the world. There are morning people. And there are people who are not morning people. I don’t know what you would call those people.
I don’t think it comes as surprise to anyone here that I am a morning person. I love mornings. I love getting up early in the morning, and I love getting most of my work done early. I always have. There is nothing like that moment of waking up to a new day. It’s always been special to me. And I think I’m not the only one.
You know I’m a morning person when I tell people that one of my favorite pieces of music of Johann Sebastian Bach has been, of course, Wachet auf, which was based on a hymn by Phillip Nicolai about a plague that hit his village of Unna in 1598. James will be playing this piece after Mass this morning. And of course, we’ll actually sing the hymn as our final hymn today, "Sleepers, awake!"
It is so appropriate for this season of Advent—and always! That whole theme of waking up, the night and darkness fleeing is just so wonderful in my opinion. Which is why I love, on this first Sunday of Advent, this theme of waking up. That is what Advent is all about, after all.
Waking up spiritually.
It’s an important theme for us as Christians. Buddhists also place great importance on being awake spiritually. Because, let’s face it, oftentimes, we are not. Oftentimes we just go through the motions of our faith—of our lives. Oftentimes we do not live our faith or ponder our faith with a fully awakened sense. We take for granted all the good things God does for us. We take for granted all the incredible people God sends to us in our lives. We often take God’s goodness for granted. We just sort of stumble through our prayers, our attendance at church, our Christian lives in kind of a fog—in a kind of half-sleep. But, to truly live our faith, to truly embody our faith, we must be spiritually awake.
In our reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans today, we find Paul saying to us:
“You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.”
Just a bit later Paul gives us that wonderful image,
“…the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light…”
What a great image for us! We know that feeling. Any time any of us have been through hardship in our lives, any time we have known the dark night of the soul in our lives, we know that true joy that comes in the morning after those dark situations. We know how glorious the light can be in our lives after having lived in spiritual darkness.
On this First Sunday of Advent—the beginning of the Church Year—there is no better image for us that this. This season of Advent is all about realizing that we, for the most part, are living in that hazy world. Advent is all about realizing that we are living in that sleepy, fuzzy, half-world. Advent is all about recognizing that we must put aside darkness—spiritual darkness, intellectual darkness, personal darkness, anything that separates us from God—and put on light. For us, this Advent season is a time for us to look into that place—that future—that’s kind of out of focus, and to focus ourselves again.
I love the image that Paul puts forth this morning of “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ.” That is perfect and precisely to the point of what this Advent season is all about. Our job during Advent season is to “put on” the Lord Jesus. The “theme” of every Advent season is
“Come quickly, Lord Jesus.”
And, in a sense, we make that prayer a reality when we “put on” Jesus. But how do we do this? How do we “put on” Jesus, as though he were some sweatshirt or fancy blue vestment?
The fact is, we have already put him on. We put him on that wonderful day we were baptized. We were clothed in Jesus on that day and we remained clothed in him to this day. Still, even clothed in Jesus as we may be, we still occasionally fail to recognize this wonderful reality in our lives.
This moment of spiritual agitation and seeking after something more has been called the “Advent situation” by the great Anglican theologian Reginald Fuller. The “Advent situation” is recognizing the reality of our present situation. We are living now—in this present moment. At times this present moment does seem almost surreal. This moment is defined by the trials and frustration and tedium as well as the joys and all the other range of emotions and feelings that living entails.
But, for the most part, we don’t feel like it all “fits” for some reason. It seems like there must be more than just this. Instinctively, spiritually, we yearn for something more, though we aren’t certain exactly what that might be. And that might possibly be the worst part of this situation. We don’t know what it is we want.
The Advent situation of Reginald Fuller reminds us that yes, this is the reality. Yes, we are here. Right now. Right here. In this moment. But we are conditioned by (and for) what comes after this—the age to come.
Many, many times you have heard me share a quote from the great Jesuit priest and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said,
“We are not physical beings having spiritual experiences; we are spirits having a physical experience.”
Or as I saw on Facebook recently,
“You’re a ghost driving a meat-covered skeleton made from stardust, riding on a rock hurtling through space. Fear nothing.”
Baptism—that physical event in which we were spiritually clothed with Christ, in which we “took on” the Lord Jesus—essentially translates us into this Advent situation. And the Baptismal life—a life in which we are constantly reminded that we are clothed with Christ—is one in which we realize that are constantly striving through this physical experience toward our ultimate fulfillment. We are spirits having this physical experience. It is a wonderful experience, despite all the heartache, despite all the pains, despite all the set-backs and frustrations. And this physical experience is making our spirits stronger. We should be fully awake for this wonderful experience our spirits are having. We should be sharpening our vision as we proceed so that we can see clearly what was once out of focus.
In this Advent season, in which we are in that transparent, glass-like world, trying to break out, let us turn and look and see who it is there in the future. Let us look and see that that Person who is standing there, the One we have been looking for all along. That Person is the Person we have been searching for all along. That Person is, in fact, the very person we have clothed ourselves with, but have been unable to recognize. It is Christ. Right there. Beckoning us forward.
Advent is here. Night is nearly over. Day is about dawn. He for whom we are longing and searching is just within reach. Our response to this Advent situation is simply a furtive cry in this blue season.
Come quickly, we are crying
Come quickly, Lord Jesus.