Saturday, December 08, 2018

Gazing At the Arrival Gate

2nd Sunday of Advent (C)

Picture: cc Philip McMaster

My dear friends, have you ever gone to fetch someone from the airport before? Do you know what it’s like? What it involves? First of all, you need, of course, to make sure that you go to the correct terminal. And then you proceed to the arrival hall. But that’s not all. After you’ve gotten there, you have to be sure to turn your eyes in the right direction. You need to resist the temptation to go window shopping. Otherwise you may miss the person when s/he arrives. Also, it helps to recall what the person you’re waiting for looks like. So that you can recognise the person when s/he walks through the gate.

Turning our eyes in the right direction, and learning to recognise the correct face. This is how we welcome people at the airport. And these are also the steps that our Mass readings invite us to take, in order to prepare ourselves to welcome Christ the Lord. And to rejoice at his arrival.

We see this most clearly in the first reading. Where the city of Jerusalem is asked to prepare for the return of her children from exile, by looking in the right direction. She is told to arise… stand on the heights and turn your eyes to the east... In the gospel too, our attention is drawn to a particular place. For we’re told that the word of God came to John the Baptist in the wilderness. And it is in the wilderness that John cries out: Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight… But what does this mean for us, sisters and brothers? Does it mean that we need to keep staring in the direction of the rising sun? Or do we need to take a hike into the jungle around MacRitchie Reservoir? What does it mean to look to the east, and to enter the wilderness? Where is the east, and where is the wilderness, for us?

We find some helpful clues in the second reading. Which begins with Paul taking a trip down memory lane. Every time I pray for all of you, I pray with joy, remembering how you have helped to spread the Good News… Paul takes the trouble to recall how he has seen the power of God at work in the Philippians in the past. And then, filled with joy at this memory, he is able to look forward in hope to the coming of the Lord in the future. I am quite certain that the One who began this good work in you will see that it is finished when the Day of Christ comes… In other words, in order to prepare for the coming of the Lord in the future, Paul begins by recalling the good things that he has seen God doing in the past. To sing with the psalmist: what marvels the Lord worked for us! Indeed we were glad. Isn’t this something that we can do too? To remember the blessings we have received in our own lives, and so to learn again to recognise the face of the Lord?

Of course, when we look into our past, it is possible that we will encounter not just good and happy memories, but also sad and angry ones. Memories that may make us feel like we have entered a scary jungle. And yet, it is also here that the Lord wishes to come and meet us. To calm our worried minds. And to heal our broken hearts. What we need to do is to learn to recognise him when he appears. By doing what Paul asks the Philippians to do in the second reading. My prayer, Paul writes, is that your love for each other may increase more and more and never stop improving your knowledge and deepening your perception so that you can always recognise what is best… To increase our love by improving our knowledge and deepening our perception of Christ the Lord. Isn’t this what we do whenever we gather to celebrate the Holy Eucharist?

Here we learn to recognise Christ when he comes in the wilderness of our lives, by remembering how he has been present to us in the past. How he has shown his love for us by being born for us… How he died and was raised again to life for us… How he continues to feed us from the table of the Word, and the altar of his Body and Blood… How he remains with us, even after we leave this church. Both in good times and in bad. Both on days brightened by happiness and laughter, as well as over nights clouded by anger and anxiety. We recall how the Lord warmly embraces us in his love, gently inviting us to share that same love with the people we meet, wherever we may go…

All this sounds simple enough. But it’s not always easy to do. It’s not easy, because our lives often look very much like a busy airport. Filled with sights and sounds that so easily capture our attention. Tempting us to turn away from the direction in which we should be looking. Which is why we all need this beautiful season of Advent. A time when we help one another to turn away from our many distractions, in order to focus our attention on the Lord. To turn to the east. And to enter the wilderness. The better to welcome the Lord, and to rejoice at his coming.

I’m reminded of these words from an old worship song:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full on His wonderful face.
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
in the light of His glory and grace.
Turn your thoughts upon Jesus. Drink deep of his comforting love.
And the thoughts of self, and of sin and strife,
will be lost in the rapture above.

My dear friends, the Lord is already at the arrival gate. What must we do to welcome him joyfully today?

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