*True confession: I borrowed this clever turn of phrase from a deacon in the neighborhood.
First Sunday of Advent B
The Nazis were already on their steady rise to power
when Fr. Alfred Delp entered a Jesuit seminary in 1926.
He could see where the Third Reich was heading—
and he was troubled that many of his fellow Germans did not.
Because he dared to speak out, Fr. Delp was arrested
and eventually hanged on February 2, 1945.
On scraps of paper smuggled out from a Nazi prison,
he wrote this reflection on his final Advent:
There is perhaps nothing we modern people need more
than to be genuinely shaken up.…
Many of the things that are happening today
would never have happened
if we had been living in that movement and disquiet of heart
which results when we are faced with God, the Lord,
and when we look clearly at things as they really are.…
Here is the message of Advent:
faced with him who is the Last, the world will begin to shake.…
It is time to awaken from sleep.
It is time for a waking up to begin somewhere.…
[T]he great question to us
is whether we are still capable of being truly shocked
or whether it is to remain so that we see thousands of things
and know that they should not be and must not be,
and that we get hardened to them.
How many things have we become used to
in the course of the years, of the weeks and months,
so that we stand unshocked, unstirred, inwardly unmoved.
Advent is a time of being deeply shaken,
so that man will wake up to himself.
Are you a deep sleeper? Or maybe you live with one?
I certainly was Thursday night with a tummy full of turkey!
When it’s time to wake up,
the gentle approach just won’t do;
more drastic measures are called for.
And so it is with the slumber that overcomes the human soul.
When our hearts sleep, they tend to sleep deeply.
Blanketed by false securities,
they settle in for the spiritual equivalent of a long winter’s nap.
Advent comes along each year sounding like an alarm.
Or—at least—it should.
We’ve rather tamed Advent over the years.
A mere shadow of its former self,
Advent is now more like a clock radio set to easy listening,
playing ever so quietly to gently rouse us
for a sentimental celebration of Christmas four weeks hence.
But the Advent we really need
is more like a trumpet blaring in your ear,
or a firm hand gripping and rattling your shoulder,
or a big splash of cold water in your face—
a wake up call which simply cannot be ignored.
Not only is the feast of Christmas coming,
but we profess to believe that the Lord Jesus Christ
will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
Faced with Christ’s return,
and with a world that’s clearly not as it should be,
we do well to pray with Isaiah,
not for comfort and joy, but for a cosmic disturbance:
Oh, that you would tear open the heavens, Lord,
and come down with the mountains quaking before you!
But, why all the quaking and shaking?
To what do we so urgently need to wake up?
First, we must wake up to the darkness—
the darkness that so often surrounds us,
the darkness that’s so often found within us.
Am I really satisfied with the state of this world
and the state of my own soul?
Advent’s promise of a Savior doesn’t mean much at all
if I don’t recognize that I’m powerless
and need saving in the first place:
helpless before my own sinfulness,
helpless before my own death,
helpless to give my life ultimate meaning and purpose.
Advent is wrapped not in shiny paper and bows,
but in the somber purple shades of penance and conversion.
What’s at stake in Advent is not being prepared for a beloved holiday;
what’s at stake is being prepared for eternity,
being receptive to salvation and its demands—
like clay in the hands of the potter.
But we don’t wake up to then just sit around in the dark.
Despite the need to face the darkness—
actually, because of it—Advent is joyful for,
as we’ll see in the increasing glow of this wreath of candles,
its promise is the coming of the Light.
We are weak, we are limited…
…but the Most High God
has assumed the lowliness of our human flesh.
In Jesus Christ, the Lord has come,
the Lord has overcome, and the Lord is coming again.
It is for this return, for this bright new dawn,
that we are to remain ever awake, watchful, and alert.
Would that you might find us doing right, Isaiah continues,
that we were mindful of you in our ways.
Am I well prepared to meet God face-to-face?
And not in some distant future—
after all, we know not the time—but even now?
That, of course, is the truth before which we ought to tremble.
Suspecting his death to be imminent, Fr. Delp wrote:
I see Advent this year
with greater intensity and anticipation than ever before.
Walking up and down in my cell,
three paces this way and three paces that way,
with my hands in irons and ahead of me an uncertain fate,
I have a new and different understanding
of God’s promise of redemption and release.
May we allow the Lord to do likewise
and truly shake us up this Advent.