When I read the Sacred Scriptures I keep asking myself, can there be a sadder picture in all of human history than that described in the first book of the Bible?
There we have our first parents, committing the world’s first sin, creeping out of paradise, a fallen couple and a fallen human race.
Then God takes pity. God has compassion. God has mercy. God has understanding. And God promises that one day he will send a Savior; he will send a Messiah; he will send a Redeemer; he will send his own Son.
So, for something like 4,000 years humankind waited for the promised Messiah who was to come. And these four weeks of Advent are a symbolic re-run of these 4,000 years of watching and waiting and longing and hoping of the Jewish people.
And these four weeks of Advent are also our contemporary preparation for the celebration of Christ’s coming at Christmas time. And on Christmas Day we will experience the same encounter with the mystery of God becoming a man as Mary and Joseph did. We desire their eagerness and their hope.
Everything worthwhile demands a decent preparation. The Irish farmer at the springtime of the year does not just go out and throw seed on the ground. No, he ploughs the soil. He harrows the soil. He fertilizes the soil. Then, he sows the seeds. Then, he watches and waits and hopes for the harvest.
In a similar way Advent is a time to prepare the mind and heart to encounter the mystery of God present and the mystery of God coming. It is a time for watchful and prayerful waiting and hoping like Mary and Joseph. It is a time to look at our inner negative self-talk about ourselves and others and the world.
The Advent preparation is a time to erase the negative thoughts that cause us to be too self-judgmental, too self-critical, too self-shaming and too harsh on ourselves. These negative thoughts are probably part of our generational legacy. These negative thoughts and emotions distract us from living in the present moment. They don’t allow us to wait and watch and joyfully hope.
When we erase the stream of negative thoughts that saturate our lives, we can automatically adopt a more self- compassionate stance in our own lives. We automatically have more focus on the coming of the Lord. It is then we lift ourselves out of the past and become present for the watching, the waiting and the hoping.
Daily each one of us has about 60,000 separate thoughts. Tragically, most of these separate thoughts are negative. And for the most part we repeat these same negative thoughts over and over again. We did it yesterday. We are probably doing it today. And we will probably recycle the same negative thoughts tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. The end result is a major distraction and much pain and much unhappiness.
John the Baptist is fresh and clear about Advent preparation. He says we are to repent. That literally means we are to change our way of thinking; we are to think differently; we are to think rationally; we are to confess; we are to receive forgiveness; we are to believe we are capable of real improvement; we are to believe we are capable of greater intimacy with God.
John the Baptist has wisdom for us all when he says have right thinking; have right emotions; do what is good; do what is just; do what is ethical; do what is compassionate; do what is challenging and confrontational of our present style of thinking and emoting and behaving and living.
John the Baptist advises that right thinking can lead us to practice prayer; to practice listening to the voice of God; to practice self-denial; to live simply; to live one’s life with honesty; give forgiveness; let go of negative stuff and on occasion withdraw from the confusion and the busyness of everyday life.
John the Baptist would see the Advent Season for our insides. It is a time for the heart. It is a time for cultivating a calm, focused heart while the world over-emphasizes selling and getting in the midst of plenty. It is a time for attending to the heart, for cleansing the heart, for healing the heart, for purifying the heart, for opening the heart to the Lord.
Question: How can I wait and watch and hope with a calm and focused heart at this time of year when so many people are emotionally damaged with more domestic quarrels, with more suicides, with more house fires, with more traffic accidents, with more burglaries, with more violence, with more drugging and addictive thinking than any other time of the year?
Msgr. Thomas J. Morgan is a retired priest of the diocese of Camden.