By Rev. Ronald Raab, C.S.C.
The Church begins the new liturgical year in Advent. The scriptures and liturgical prayers of these four weeks invite us to cultivate a deep desire for God. This desire comes from our ancestors who waited for the Messiah. Advent invites us into silent waiting and prayerful anticipation of the Incarnation. The grace of the season is given to us who believe Christmas continues in our world; it is not an event that happened only centuries ago. In other words, Jesus Christ is still being born in our hearts, still revealing the love and compassion of the Kingdom of God.
Advent beckons our hearts and attention. Our new liturgical year begins not just on a calendar but within our hearts and souls. Advent scrapes away at our doubt, our apathy, and our lack of attention in order to uncover in our hearts our deepest longings for love, for hope, and for mercy. Advent is a call from within to change our approach to life in order to find the fidelity of God’s incarnate love. Advent is not just a reordering of our interior lives but a gesture of hope in the absolute darkness of injustice, wrong-doing, and infidelity. Advent claims our conscience if we allow the passionate scriptures to capture our hearts and lives in the world.
Advent shatters our small expectations of life. Advent preparation goes further than baking cookies for house guests or wrapping gifts in secret to offer our loved ones on Christmas morning. Advent cannot be ordered from Amazon or packaged neatly under a fake tree. Advent releases us from fear when our minds close up and our perspectives in life shrink. Now is the time to reimagine Advent. Now is the time to be quiet in the busiest season of the year. Now is the time to reexamine God’s fidelity toward us as we scurry to purchase gifts, create parties, and spend more money than is in our budgets.
Advent carves in our daily lives a well of courage when we discover we have been living in shallowness and insecurity. Advent opens doors of faith as we enter the mystery of these four weeks before Christmas. Advent prepares our hearts but not in the ways we may first realize. Advent opens for us our deepest longings for God. In Advent, we come to realize that we live in the beauty of God’s fidelity all year long and we prepare our fragile lives with the abundant care of Christ’s presence in the world.
We are not alone in this season of conversion. John the Baptist heralds and embodies our faith journey. John the Baptist calls us to reorder our lives for the coming of God’s Kingdom. The adult John the Baptist reminds us that Advent is not child’s play, and he shows up not in the toy aisles of big box stores but in the darkest places of our ill will, our stubbornness, and most especially in our loneliness in this month before Christmas. John is a sheer prophet. John is a leader and guide. John points us in the direction of God’s Kingdom.
John reminds us that we do not wait for a baby to be born this Advent because we did that years ago. Instead, John points his heart, his mind, his body, and his finger in the direction of the Kingdom of God. The Incarnation of God is still being revealed in Christ Jesus. Our Messiah is living and loving today, not just in the past. John the Baptist challenges us to prepare for our own death. John is restless until we all believe that we must prepare also for the end of the ages when all of life will be swept up in God’s glory.
As a child, I was told that it is rude to point. Even that gesture changes its focus in Advent. If we listen carefully to John the Baptist, he reveals to us that we should spend our entire lives pointing in the direction of Christ Jesus. Our entire orientation of faith must be lived in the direction of Christ Jesus and our ultimate place in heaven. Christ is to be our center of life. Christ must show us how to repent and how to live. Christ must be at the center of our attention, our decision-making, and our source of genuine joy. Christ must reign within us, and we must tell others to point in such a direction of love, purpose, and kindness. Christ is our grounding, our direction, and our ultimate love. John the Baptist reveals to us in Advent that it is never rude to point to Christ Jesus. In fact, pointing to Christ Jesus should be our way of life all year long.
As a Holy Cross priest, I have celebrated most Advents in parishes. I have witnessed the joys of a mother giving birth in these days of longing. I have also walked to many graves in this season of preparation. I have watched the paradoxes of life and death, of faithfulness and infidelity, of courage and doubt, of bitterness and reconciliation, all within family life. I have experienced the paradoxes of everyday situations and miracles of life. In Advent darkness, I have seen with my own eyes how family members begin to see their outcast relatives with new generosity and kindness. I have known runaway children who found homes. I have seen the lonely sadness in the eyes of an elderly man in a nursing home give way to joyful tears with the visit of a long-lost son.
Many years ago in Burbank, California, I preached on Christmas Eve. I used props at a children’s Mass. One of the props was a pair of black dress socks. After speaking about the various articles, I gave them away to people in the congregation. I noticed an elderly man with his ailing wife sitting at the end of the pew. I had never seen them before. So, after speaking about the work of Christmas and the warmth of God’s covenantal love, I handed the dress socks to the elderly man.
A few days later, he called the parish office and asked me if I could come to the hospital because his wife had experienced a heart attack. As I entered the hospital room, the woman whispered to her husband, “It’s the sock-priest.” She passed away shortly after that. After her funeral, he approached me in tears. He lifted up his pant leg and pointed to his new black socks. We embraced each other and wept for his wife and for the comfort he felt in our community. We were both warmed at that moment, pointing to his nylon socks, a gesture of deep faith and hope.
“John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. And this is what he proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mark 1
Litany of Prayer:
Response: John the Baptist, point us toward the Kingdom
In our longing for peace:
In our longing for mercy:
In our longing for reconciliation:
In our longing for hope:
In our darkest days of the year:
In our darkest days of violence and war:
In our darkest days of loss and grief:
In our darkest days of doubt and apathy:
In our paradoxes when death gives way to life:
In our paradoxes when the lion will lay with the lamb:
In our paradoxes when the light will shine in the darkness:
In our paradoxes when the lost will find the promised land:
In our miracles of birth:
In our miracles of redemption:
In our miracles of joy:
In our miracles of heartfelt love:
Rev. Ronald Patrick Raab, C.S.C., serves as religious superior of Holy Cross House, our retirement and medical facility at Notre Dame, Indiana. He is an award-winning author, blogger, and visual artist. Learn more at ronaldraab.com
Fr. Ron has painted many images of John the Baptist. This particular image is part of his personal collection. It is painted in acrylic and captures the eyes of how John longs to see the promise of the Kingdom of God. His intense longing is revealed in this colorful portrait of a desert prophet. John points even with his eyes to the person of Christ, the Messiah of our longing.