Reflection for the First Sunday of Advent 2016

By Fr. Tim Shillcox, O. Praem.

They shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
one nation shall not raise the sword against another,
nor shall they train for war again.
O house of Jacob, come,
let us walk in the light of the Lord!

—Isaiah 2:5
Fr. Tim Shillcox, O. Praem.
Fr. Tim Shillcox, O. Praem.

It was Lent (not Advent)—Ash Wednesday Mass at Prémontré High School in Green Bay. I was recruited to help distribute ashes—a smear of a cross on students’ foreheads with the words:

“Turn away from sin and believe the Gospel!”

One young man, Rod, approached—unkempt, surly, and not thrilled to be there. Brushing his “mop” of hair to the side, I earnestly administered the penitential sign:

“Turn away from sin and believe the Gospel!”

He shrugged his shoulders, looked at me with disgust, and whispered, “Yeah, right!” as if to say, “That’s not gonna happen!”

Entering this week, into the 2,000-year stretch of waiting, which is Advent, we hear Isaiah’s cherished prophecy—weapons become garden implements; military science falls from the human curriculum. We may be tempted to stand in bitterness and cynicism with that ash-smeared, young man:

“Yeah, right. That’s not gonna happen!”

Just as Israel’s “wait” for the Messiah was longer than anyone expected at the beginning, so is the Christian Advent which awaits the Second Coming of Christ—the total destruction of death, end of the world, the fulfillment of the Gospel Dream, and the Eternal and Universal Kingdom of Peace and Justice.

Our patience repeatedly “worn out by the journey” (Numbers 21:4), we grumble many times, we throw in the towel, and yield to pessimism, even despair. The flame of faith and hope goes out. “God’s Time” certainly isn’t paying attention to our expectations! And the world is such a mess!

But since “a thousand ages in God’s sight are like an evening gone” (Psalm 90:4), we must do something to keep Hope alive!

Perhaps the right question:

  • Do we really believe that God is faithful? (Psalm 117:2)
  • Do we trust that what the Prophets foretell can happen?
  • Do we really trust that the Gospel can be lived in such a way as to bring about the Kingdom?
  • Is Jesus real?
  • Do we stake our life on Him?

It’s tempting to hedge our bets, including religion—just in case. But Faith defies that logic; Faith demands we take a leap … and let God be in control. Faith isn’t a safety net, but realizing that in Christ, we don’t need a safety net of our own making.

Could it be that we’re the ones holding up the Advent of the Kingdom?  Since “God’s patience is directed toward our salvation” (2 Peter 3:15), is it us who have put roadblocks in the way of justice and peace?

The Advent readings invite us to live as children of the light. That Kingdom light cast upon our words, attitudes, practices, relationships, habits, operating assumptions, and presumptions these Advent days has the power to heal, and reform us more completely in the Kingdom Vision.

The observation that all of our life is Advent is true enough—waiting for Christ to come for fulfillment and take us home.

But annual Advent, beginning with these Scriptures, reminds us of our essential role in that eternal project. It’s just the jumpstart we need, to see things in a different light.

The season invites us to a subtle, yet powerful form of renewal and repentance—taking responsibility for ourselves, walking in the Light of the Lord, and allowing that light to shine the truth on anything that wouldn’t be at home in that Gospel Kingdom.

Maybe WE need to beat OUR swords into plowshares, OUR spears into pruning hooks? Maybe as Aaron Rodgers would say, we need to “get after it”—peace and justice—more earnestly? Maybe we’re the ones holding things up?

It’s not God taking so long.
Perhaps it’s us—the Church, the human family,
having had everything necessary
since the birth, life, death, resurrection, and glorification of Jesus long ago!

May our Advent eagerness, earnestness, and our allowing the Light of Christ to permeate everything we are and do as days grow shorter inspire us to risk full cooperation with God in hastening the Great and Final Day of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Peaceable Kingdom for which we so yearn!


Let us pray:

Come Lord Jesus, Light of the World!
Shine into our minds and hearts, our lives and relationships.
Inspire us anew, by the Gospel Vision;
and compel us by the Holy Spirit to do our part, with You,
in seeing to it that the Gospel Word continues to take flesh and dwell within us and among us!
You are that Word—Jesus Christ–our Lord and our Hope, forever and ever!

More opportunities to celebrate the season of Advent at St. Norbert Abbey »

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