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Sunday, Nov. 30, is the First Sunday in Advent, (Year B) when we are called to wait for Jesus, just like the Jewish people did for years before Christ. That is hard to do. After all, Jesus has already come; what’s more, he is still here, right there in the tabernacle.
Waiting for Jesus to come at Christmas feels a little bit like waiting for that Christmas present your spouse bought you on Amazon. You saw the order. Maybe you even saw the gift when the package came in. You know what it is, and it feels a little silly to go through the charade of waiting to experience it again.
Likewise, it is hard to put yourself in the place of the Old Testament believers waiting for the Messiah. But the Psalms can help you do it.
Dominican Father Peter John Cameron, editor of Magnificat, speaks about how Paul must have felt encountering Christ for the first time.
Paul had prayed the Psalms all his life, but perhaps he didn’t ever expect them to literally come true. He would have prayed in this Sunday’s Psalm, “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.”
He was a devout man. He prayed that with all his heart. But did he expect to see the face of God? Did he expect Israel to be saved?
He also would have been familiar with the words of Isaiah from today’s readings: “O, that you would rend the heavens and come down.”
What did he think as he prayed it? Perhaps he thought: “This is what we always pray and hope for — and the hope does us good. But this is something that will happen another day, not to us.”
Then God surprised and delighted Paul and others by giving them just what they asked for. They saw his face. He ripped open the heavens and came down. He saved them.
We often hear this Sunday’s Gospel reading about Christ coming again and have the same attitude toward it. Some day it will happen. We believe it. But it won’t be today.
But what if it is?
God has surprised us before. Remember when it seemed that the Iron Curtain was a permanent feature of life in Europe? That there would always be an atheistic Soviet communist bloc? We prayed that it would change, hoping but not presuming that it would. Then it did. Exactly 25 years ago, the wall came down and today faith is making a comeback in Eastern Europe and Russia.
Remember praying in 2001 that we wouldn’t be hit by large-scale terrorist attacks on our soil again? We prayed it wouldn’t happen, but assumed it would. We heard all the scenarios. Maybe they would go after the electric grid. Maybe it would be anthrax in the mail. Maybe it would be airplanes again.
Well, we always need to be vigilant, but those prayers were answered, too.
What about our prayer that Christ will come again? That he will bring peace in our day? That his justice and love will reign where humanity has spread error and violence and hatred?
We might be praying for these things like St. Paul did, saying, “This is what we always pray and hope for — and the hope does us good. But this is always something that will happen another day, not to us.”
But maybe, like St. Paul, we will be startled to see it start to happen tomorrow.
We can pray today’s Psalm like Paul did: “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.”
And we can bring the same attitude to today’s Gospel: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.”
The God who created and saves us is a God of surprises. He has graciously given us seasons like Advent to remind us to confess our sins and reform our lives.
We should take him up on it – before it’s too late.