First Sunday of Advent

I traveled to Virginia Beach this week for Thanksgiving to see my parents and family. It was quite a pleasant gathering at my sister’s house. All the important people were there. All the basic food groups were represented. And a reasonable number of the members of the first group mingled with a reasonable number of the members of the second. On the whole, it was a successful event since we accomplished all the objectives we set out to accomplish. We gave thanks to God for the blessings of the past year and looked with hope to the blessings God would shower upon us in the year ahead. And we expressed our gratitude by sharing with one another the blessings that graced the dinner table that day.

The path to family is permanently etched in my brain. All through college and graduate school and the last 30 years, I would make my way home periodically by land or air from New Jersey or Ohio or Louisiana or Florida. If I was at the wheel I would sometimes get lost on purpose, and sometimes I would get lost without even trying. It’s sadly never a very exciting trip home. I usually travel alone or with a dog. The trip has taken anywhere from 3 to 24 hours, a long time struggling to stay awake and stay on course, negotiating with other drivers over who gets where they want before anyone else, with very minimal physical activity while I ingest large quantities of caffeine and sugar and chocolate, stopping occasionally for gasoline and bathroom visits. Every now and then, I turn everything off and I talk to myself. At times it’s prayer or just thinking out loud or reading billboards and road signs just to stay awake. But I’m on my way to spend time with people I know and love and who have known and loved me a long time. So regardless of my personal issues at any one time, I know it’ll all be fine.

As today we begin the season of Advent, we start a new year in the cycle of the church’s life. We are presented anew the eternal mysteries of our faith enfleshed in human history and understanding, attuning our minds and hearts to God who speaks to us in our language using our words and our images, making present here and now that which gives meaning and purpose to our existence. The season of Advent has often been likened to a journey, a journey of four weeks representing centuries of waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation to our first parents, a journey that takes us to the celebration of Christmas, the dawn of new life for all who believe. Like my journey home to see family, I have found the journey of Advent unexciting at times, and at worst, tedious. I have found myself waaaa-iting to get somewhere without having to do much because I get there anyway regardless of what I do. Every now and then I have tried to liven up the journey with side trips to interesting sights and events, experiences of prayer, reflection and learning, experiences of ministry, service and outreach, advent art and music, advent rituals, scriptural and inspirational entertainment, and various sensory experiences aimed at enhancing my spiritual journey.

Like the sentiments expressed in the reading from the prophet Isaiah, I have experienced Advent as a journey to the mountain of the Lord’s house where I may receive instruction in the ways of God and teaching about God’s path. And sometimes that journey is fruitful because I am able to hold my focus long enough. But not always.

The journey of Advent is really not about my journey to God at all. Rather, it is about God’s journey to me, something I have not paid enough attention to ever. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus speaks about the coming of the Son of Man at a time when we least expect, like a thief in the night. He tells me that God comes looking for me, searching as for a lost sheep, as for a prodigal child. Whether I am looking for God or not is irrelevant. God is looking for me. God is making his way to me. It is not an event confined to one specific point in history because God is still searching and will forever be searching until I come home to stay. A couple of times these last few weeks I have been given the opportunity to bring that searching to a close, at least for a moment, to bring a lost sheep back into the fold, to bring a lost child back into the Father’s embrace. If we can picture the joy we come to know at journey’s end, we can gain insight into the joy God comes to know when God’s journey is complete, when God has to search no more because the lost sheep has been found and the lost child has come home.

In our midst today, there are a number of our sisters and brothers who have wandered astray, a number of his flock that God has set out in search of this Advent season. If any of us is that prodigal child or lost sheep, the words of Paul to the Romans are meant for us too. “It is now the hour for you to wake from sleep, for our salvation is closer than when we first accepted the faith. The night is far spent; the day draws near.” If you are lost, God is looking for you. But God cannot force the lost to be found. God cannot impose reconciliation and healing upon those who have chosen to stray. God invites. God calls out lovingly. It is up to us to hear the voice that calls our name, to wake from sleep and to meet God half-way down that road to healing.

This Advent season, God is setting out on a journey to find each of us. Some will go on sleeping and fail to hear God’s invitation to be found. Some will sincerely believe they have to do all the work of journeying and searching, and they will miss the quiet invitation to return home. But tedious as that journey might seem to us, God does not give up, not until the last lost sheep is found and the last lost child comes home. Are you willing to meet God halfway?

Rolo B Castillo © 2022