Saturday, November 29, 2014

Lord, Make Us Turn to You: A Homily for the First Sunday of Advent

The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
First Sunday of Advent – Year B

November 30, 2014
“Lord, Make us Turn to You”

The days are noticeably shorter and darker. That cold northern wind blows its frozen breath everywhere we go. The snow and the ice are piling up all around. These are the stark realities of winter, and whether we like it or not, it will be like this for some time yet. So we stoke up the fireplace and turn up the furnace; we put on double layers of clothing; we nestle under fleece blankets and burn our tongues with piping hot cocoa. We’ll do whatever we must to chase the bitter sting of winter away, lessening its chilly blow and countering its icy cold attack with warmth and merriment. It’s good that we do these things…we might not survive otherwise. But the harshness of winter is not simply a long annual inconvenience that we try to make the best of…it’s a reminder. Nature itself, whose author is the Lord God Almighty, reflects the inner struggle and turmoil of the human condition. Just as nature undergoes periods that are severe and harsh, so too is it the case with the human heart. The power of sin affects and infects our lives, in very obvious ways and sometimes in subtle ways. An adulterous affair can ruin a family just as fast and devastatingly as a tornado can rip apart a house…but even a little bit of hatred can destroy one’s own heart as thoroughly and subtly as a slight, but constant temperature change can destroy an entire crop. Abortion, murder, idolatry, blasphemy, fornication, missing Sunday Mass, perjury, envy, hatred, pride, lying…these and so many other sins that we and others commit surround us. Sometimes they are obvious and sometimes they are not, but they are present, creating storms and harsh winters, wreaking havoc and destroying lives. They make our days shorter and darker, and like snow and ice, they just keep piling up. We know how to chase the sting of winter away…but do we know where to turn to warm ourselves up in the winter that is sin?

Many people consider Advent to be the proximate preparation for the great feast of Christmas. This is not untrue. We make Advent wreaths and calendars to count down the days and the weeks…we shop and bake and decorate our homes…we visit family members…we even immerse ourselves in Scripture reading and reflect on the wonderful stories surrounding the birth of the Christ Child. These are all wonderful and important things…but, if we let it, Advent does something more. It situates us in the muck of sin, helping us to become more and more aware of the iciness that infects our own souls, and then it orients us…it turns us to Christ, the all-consuming light Who alone can conquer the misery of our darkness. No amount of Christmas cheer, or good deeds, or personal resolutions to become a better person can accomplish in the human heart what Christ alone can do. If we are to survive the winter of sin, we must turn to the Lord.

The words of our Responsorial Psalm this morning convey the urgency of this. In desperation we cry out, “Lord, make us turn to You; let us see Your face and we shall be saved. We know that without our King of Glory, without our Prince of Peace, there is no hope…but He has promised Himself to us, and because of this, with eagerness we look to His coming. The Babe of Bethlehem is God in the Flesh…with a name and with a face. The Mystery and the Miracle of Christmas is that, in Jesus Christ, God can be looked upon. Advent, if we let it, can orient us and turn us towards Him.

But this is not an abstract thing, nor is it a lovely sentiment. Turning to the Lord is an actual and deliberate activity…it is physical and it is spiritual. As human beings, orientation is written into our very make-up. We have a front and a back…we can physically turn towards something. We have a will…we can orient our minds and our hearts towards something. But we cannot have it both ways. If we turn towards something, it necessarily means that we turn away from something else…we cannot face two directions at the same time. But because of the weakness of our wills and the erraticism of our attention spans, we spend our lives doing something of a dance…we turn in circles, looking about at everything: good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and sin. The more disciplined and holy among us, the saints, have figured out that this dance can be stopped…and, in fact, that it must be stopped. An athlete orients himself towards health and physical perfection…it’s not at all easy, but when he focuses and wills it, he does it. He eats healthy and exercises much, and studies better ways to do both. He avoids certain luxuries and extravagances. He carves out the time necessary to accomplish his goal. A life of holiness is quite similar, but with one exception: we don’t orient ourselves towards a thing, but to a Person. And to turn towards Him means we make our entire lives about Him…we live for love of Him. It means spending time with Him every day in prayer. It means avoiding anything and anyone that would lead us away from Him. It means putting Him first and everything else, no matter how good and fulfilling, second…whether it be family, soccer, work, the mall, the beach, you name it. Because if we turn to other things, it means we cannot be completely turned towards Him…and if we’re not turned towards Him, our only light and our only warmth, then it’s only a matter of time before we’ll freeze in the winter of sin.

So as we begin these days of Advent, make the choice to turn towards the Lord. Take a good and honest inventory of your life: what do you turn towards and does it prevent you from turning to Him? If it does, it has to go. Whether it’s a sin, a memory, an attitude, a relationship, whatever it is…ask the Lord today, in this Holy Mass, to help you give it up. We are not strong enough to do this on our own…we need the Lord’s help to turn to Him: His grace, His healing, His mercy, His love. Bundle yourself up in these garments of warmth, and then trudge your way through the dark and somber days of Advent. The Christ Child, He Who is the King of Glory, awaits…turn towards Him and you shall be saved.

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