“YES, O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay, and you are the potter: we are the work of your hands” (Is 64:7). These are beautiful words the Scripture presents to us on this First Sunday of Advent as we prepare for Christmas! We’re going to spend the weeks of Advent in prayer, asking God the Potter to shape our hearts so that we become vigorous in caring deeply and loving generously and heroically. We pray that he expand our minds and open them so we can understand better his ways and humbly accept them. We’re going to allow God to embolden our spirits so that we can forgive unreservedly, love unconditionally, and hope untiringly.
This is why Advent is a significant preparation for Christmas. It’s a counter-cultural celebration in a society that focuses on material things and pleasures. Not that God is against the happiness we experience from having these things, but that he’s reminding us to dwell on the heart of this Christmas preparation, which is prayer. It’s no wonder that the Gospel tells us to “watch… whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning.” It’s a time to be present to God, to be awake to the deep riches of his grace inside of us and around us.
Ron Rolheiser is honest in claiming that being present, being awake, and indeed, being watchful are hard disciplines to do with so many distractions, cares, and pressures of everyday life. It’s for this reason, he says, that “every major spiritual tradition has daily rituals designed precisely to wake us from spiritual sleep, akin to an alarm clock waking us from physical sleep. It’s for this reason that “we should ensure that we have regular spiritual rituals, spiritual alarm clocks, to jolt us back awake–so that it doesn’t take a heart attack, a stroke, cancer, or death to wake us up.” (In Exile, Center for Liturgy, St. Louis University).
Advent then is one of those beautiful spiritual traditions that can wake us up from the sleep of spiritual death—the overindulgence in worldly pleasures and preoccupation with prestige and self-grandiosity, and the state of being stuck in anger and resentments toward other people. It’s that time to wake us up to the beauty, the truth, the joy, and the promise of the Gospel that we can only experience through a life of generosity, service, forgiveness, and love.
It’s then a time of repentance, recognizing that we sinful and unclean as Prophet Isaiah declares in our First Reading when he says that “our good deeds are like polluted rags, and we have withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind.” Only with repentant hearts that we can begin to rebuild, restore, and renew ourselves and our relationships.
We pray that the Spirit of Advent enters the hearts of our world leaders. We pray that they allow the God of justice, mercy, and love, the God of the poor and the desolate, to fashion their hearts with the same attributes of God.
Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is our model of prayer in this time of Advent. Her attentiveness to God’s will, courage, patience, humility, and complete trust in God exemplify to us the heart of a child of God. Let’s ask her to be our guide, mentor, and intercessor during this season of Advent. Amen!
* * *
From a Filipino immigrant family, Reverend Rodel G. Balagtas was ordained to the priesthood from St. John’s Seminary in 1991. He served as Associate Pastor at St. Augustine, Culver City (1991-1993); St. Martha, Valinda (1993-1999); and St. Joseph the Worker, Canoga Park (1991-2001). In 2001, he served as Administrator Pro Tem of St. John Neumann in Santa Maria, CA, until his appointment as pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary, Los Angeles, in 2002, which lasted 12 years. His term as Associate Director of Pastoral Field Education at St. John’s Seminary began in July 2014.