Thursday, December 17, 2015

Oh...Right...Pray...

Advent 3rd Sunday - Year C - 2105
Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center

Two weeks down – twelve days to go; Christmas is just around the corner…are you ready?  I confessed last week that I hadn’t bought the first present or sent the first card; that there wasn’t a single twinkling light shining in the rectory.  I haven’t made any progress at all.  I don’t feel any more ready for Christmas than I did in July.  There’s a light at the end of the tunnel…but it feels like a freight train headed straight for me; I’m just not ready…but still, Christmas is coming!
Forget the cards and the presents and the lights – what about the spiritual preparations?  Prepare the way of the Lord – lower the mountainous obstacles of sin and vice and selfishness and self-centeredness that obstruct our relationship with Him, fill in the chasms of indifference and busy-ness and poor priorities that seem to keep us from being ready – straighten out the twists and turns that are knotting up our relationships with one another – prepare the way of the Lord!  For two weeks now that voice has haunted us like Marley’s ghost…and sometimes it seems like we haven’t made any progress at all.  Will the coming of Christ catch us like a trap as Jesus warned us it might?
Last week the voice reminded us that we don’t have to do this work alone; God Himself has commanded the mountains to lower themselves and the valleys to fill themselves in.  Whatever obstacle we’re trying to remove or shortcoming we’re trying to improve, Jesus is right there with us working away.  Last week we found hope because we don’t have to make these preparations alone…but if you’re like me…there still seems so much to do, and so little time left to do it in.  Presents to be bought.  Decorations to hang.  Apologies to offer and accept.  Sins to confess and penance to make.  Attitudes to be changed.  Room made in our hearts for the baby in the manger.
And just when we seem to be getting to the end of our ropes, right when we’re about to panic…right when we’re spiritually out of breath and just one more “Prepare the way of the Lord” away from a full blow panic attack…the Church stops for a moment and tells us to…pray…
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Uh… what?  You gotta’ be kidding me, right?  Aren’t you listening at all?  Who’s got time to pray?  Cards and presents and apologies and charity and mountains and valleys and confessions and sins and virtues and twinkling lights and what in the world is this Advent Angel thing the parish staff is doing (I still can’t figure it out) and paths to straighten and claymation to watch and cookies and candy to make and parish volunteer activities to sign up for and Sister’s petitions to sign and announcements at the end of Mass – so many announcements – and did I mention the cards and presents and twinkling lights and prepare the way of the lord and make straight his paths and what was it that you just said?
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Pray.  Pray?  Oh…right…pray.  How did I forget that?
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All too often when things get frantic, and there is so much to do – when our field of vision fills up with our things to do list, our preparations, even our spiritual preparations; all too often we get ‘in the zone’ and are so focused on ‘getting it all done’ that we forget the only hope for getting any of it done well is to pray. 
We count the days left until Christmas, and our head starts spinning like a top:  Oh no – I’m not ready!  What will I do?  I know – I just won’t sleep!  I’ll study all night and write that paper first thing in the morning; I’ll work those extra hours to have enough money for those gifts, and I’ll wrap them as soon as the kids go to sleep.  WalMart is open 24 hours, I can get my shopping done at 3am. 
We hear St. Paul tell us the Lord is near, and we’re off to the races:  Oh goodness no – I’m not ready?  There’s so much to do…how will I ever get it done?  He’s near?  He’s coming – but I’m not ready…there’s not enough time…what shall I do? 
We forget sometimes that what we most need to prepare for Christmas always starts with prayer:  “The Lord is near!  So – have no anxiety at all!  But in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving – make your requests known to God.  Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  Pray – and rejoice. 
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I don’t know quite how it works, friends – but it does.  I don’t know what mountains need to be lowered – what valleys need to be filled – in your life to prepare for Christmas.  I don’t know what relationships need to be mended, or cares or concerns are weighing heavily on your heart that need to be tended to before Light comes into the world in twelve days.  But I do know this – if you pray, if you tell God your burdens and then rejoice…then…well, then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus…and Christmas will find you watching and waiting…ready for the coming of the Lord.  And you’ll be blessed.

Gaudete Sunday is our rest stop on the long trip to Christmas – we take stock of where we are, we’re reminded who we’re preparing to meet, and we are refreshed by the sacraments.  And today we’re reminded that while this season – this hectic, busy, too-full season – we’re reminded that while this season is about preparation, it is ultimately about peace and joy.  And peace and joy come from sharing all the burden and heartache and challenge – all of it, no matter how shallow or how small – peace and joy come from sharing everything with God in prayer.  

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