Sunday, December 03, 2006

1st Sunday of Advent (C)
The Wakefulness of the Heart

Readings: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14; 1 Thessalonians 3:12—4:2; Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

As we begin a new liturgical year, we once again find ourselves being reminded by Jesus to be prepared for God’s coming, to stay awake, praying at all times… This is the same admonition – and indeed from the same passage of scripture, albeit slightly longer – that we heard yesterday. So what’s new?

Probably nothing. After all, it’s the same mystery we are examining, just as it’s the same God who’s coming and the same Lord who speaks. And yet, because we are dealing with mystery, thing’s are never completely the same, are they? There’s always something fresh, something new, something challenging for us to consider.

Yesterday, our reflection on the book of Revelation led us to think of staying awake in visual terms. We reflected upon how, even in the midst of our busy lives, we need to be like the visionary John, who helps his people to keep alive the vision of God’s coming kingdom. Today, our readings provide yet another perspective on what it means to stay awake that has less to do with the eyes and the imagination, and more with the heart.

Watch yourselves, says Jesus, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life…

And lest we be puzzled by the metaphor Jesus uses in the gospel, the other two readings help us to understand what Jesus means by speaking about what might be the opposite of coarsened hearts. What is it like – a heart of flesh, a heart that remains true to the Lord? It is like that One whose coming is described in the first reading, who shall practise honesty and integrity in the land. It is like the heart of Jesus, the ultimate person of integrity, who remains true to the mission entrusted to him by his Father, even unto death. It is like that for which Paul prays in the second reading, when he asks that the Lord be generous in increasing your love and make you love one another and the whole human race as much as we love you. To have a heart of flesh is to allow ourselves to be touched by the joys and sorrows, the fears and aspirations of those around us, and to respond generously according to our capacity.

To continue to do this in a world that often seems only to delight in and to reward hardened hearts is not an easy thing. Isn’t that why we must continue to pray as we did in the opening prayer: that the All-powerful God increase our strength of will for doing good?

Still, we pray with confidence that God is sure to answer us, because in Christ, he has done what he said he would through the prophet Jeremiah, he has fulfilled the promise he made to the House of Israel and the House of Judah, and indeed to all the world.

How might we continue stay awake, and to cultivate hearts of flesh today?

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