The Hope of Advent: Be Vigilant Via Conscious Contact With God
User’s Guide to the First Sunday of Advent
Sunday, Nov. 28, is the First Sunday of Advent. Mass Readings: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:4-5, 8-10, 14; 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2; Luke 21:25-28, 34-36.
As we begin the Advent season, we are immediately drawn into its principal theme of preparation and readiness for the coming of the Lord. His first coming has already been fulfilled at Bethlehem, and while we should prepare spiritually for the coming Christmas feast, these first weeks of Advent bid us to focus even more on his second coming in glory. The Lord instructs us on how to be ready. He tells us to beware of four things that are treated here in a different order than the text:
The Lord warns of the problem of “carousing.” The Greek word used is kraipale, literally meaning the giddiness and headache caused by drinking wine to excess. More generally, it means the excessive indulgence of passions or living life to excess. We live in times that make it easy to (over)satisfy our every need. It weighs us down, wearies us, costs a lot of time and money, and isn’t satisfying.
The Greek word used is merimnais, meaning more literally “a part separated from the whole,” “that which divides and fractures a person into parts.” The human person, overwhelmed with excess, becomes incapable of distinguishing the urgent from the important. We are pulled in many different directions, distracted by a thousand contrary drives and concerns. All of this overwhelms us and clouds our minds and hearts. Hence, the Lord lists anxiety as among those things that destroy our readiness to stand before him with joy.
Many drink to medicate this sense of being overwhelmed. Instead of slowing down and seeking God, many drink too much. Many anesthetize their minds, also indulging in diversions: entertainment, food, sex and many other pleasures. A little wine is a gift from God to cheer our hearts (Psalm 104:15), but, with excess, one goes beyond cheer and experiences dullness of mind. Thus, many are laden with excess, anxiously divided by contrary demands, and are medicating the stress with insobriety. Hence, the heart becomes tired and burdened. The Greek word here is barethosin, meaning heavily laden, overcome or weighted down.” In this state, one’s heart is no longer inflamed and animated with love. It has become weary, distracted, bored and tired of holy things and of the Lord. It no longer keeps watch for the Lord, whom it is called to love.
What to do about this awful cycle? The Lord says, “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21: 36). To be vigilant and prayerful is to be in living, conscious contact with God. It is to have our hearts and minds focused on the one thing necessary (Luke 10:42) and thus to have our lives ordered. This lightens one’s heart; its heaviness goes away. It is free to love with well-ordered desires. Only then can we “stand erect and raise [our] head because [our] redemption is at hand” (Luke 21:28).