1stSunday of Advent – Building a Faith life with the End in Mind
One might wonder why, at the startof the church year, we are given a Gospel about the endof times.
About what will happen when Jesus comes again.
Yet here we are at the start of Advent, a time when we prepare for the coming of the child Jesus into the world. These readings kind of seem a bit out of place.
If you or I were preparing the Sunday reading texts for today we might choose something that we thought was more appropriate. Like the Visitation by the Angel Gabriel to Mary to announce that she would conceive of the Godchild.
But, until the day that we are given the authority to create a new reading schedule, we are left to ponder why these texts were chosen.
In contemplating these readings it occurred to me that there is a message of starting with the end in mind.
And given that many of us live in the construction zone otherwise known as Marsden Park, I thought that there may be an analogy with building a new house.
So, what are the stages in building a house? You might conceive of the stages differently, but in my thinking, it all starts with a dream, and then planning, approval, construction, and, finally, living.
Firstly, a dream
One of the basic human needs is for safe shelter. And as relationships develop amongst people their desire changes from simply having a place to live to having a place to truly call home.
Many of you in this community had a dream of a new home in this area and no doubt spent many hours discussing how you wanted that home to be – how many bedrooms, what style of living area, single storey or double etc.
But there comes a time when the dream in your head needs to take on more form, and will usually involve working with an architect or building company to record on paper or a computer the precise details of measurements and construction type needed; of considerations of costs and the inevitable trade-offs of extras or cost savings.
At some stage, a number of approvals are needed: from local government for development approval and from lending bodies for finances.
Then comes the time to start building. And because we live with the law of gravity we always need to start with a firm foundation and build up from there. We need specialists for various stages of construction. For example, we wouldn’t use a painter to lay the concrete slab just as we wouldn’t use a brick layer to do the electrical work. And, of course, every building project needs someone to oversee the whole of the construction.
And finally, the big day comes when the construction is finished and we can move in, doing our own styling such as arranging furnishings the way we want them and putting up our own photos and artwork and other personal touches. It also involves meeting the neighbours and becoming established in the community.
And this is where I can see an analogy of such a home building project and the development of our own faith life.
Each person is born with a holy longing within them. One of my favourite Catholic writers, Fr Ron Rolheiser, wrote a book called The Holy Longing.
He wrote that “ … there is within us a fundamental dis-ease, an unquenchable fire that renders us incapable, in this life, of ever coming to full peace.”
St Augustine similarly said:
“Our hearts are restless until they rest in you [God].”
For Christians, this longing ideally causes us to begin a relationship with Jesus, a relationship which our whole lives can be focussed on nurturing and deepening. Because our ultimate aim is to be so aligned with Jesus that one day we can move into our eternal home with him.
Just like building a house, building a Christian life also needs a master plan.
Yet I perceive that many Christian’s instead tend to make things up as they go along. Do we have a plan as to how to understand more about God’s revelation through the bible and in church teaching and through the insights of the great spiritual writers? Do we take the time to form our conscience? Do we discern the role we can play in areas such as social justice and in outreach to people in need?
I’ll say a little but more about this at the end.
In our faith life we receive guidance from the Church.
Jesus established a church to be his ongoing presence in the world and to guide people as they walked as his disciples. The church is often likened to the figure of a mother. Qualities we associate with mothers include nurturing, instilling values, educating, modelling behaviour and loving, but also at times disciplining.
In the faith life, a key role of the church is to support formation of consciences amongst its people.
Because every child needs to one day grow up and be responsible for their own decisions, made with the insights learned during their childhood and youth.
There are many who can help us on our faith journey. Parents should be the first educators in faith of their children but others also have a role to play, such as teachers, clergy and catechists.
Some of us will want more specific and detailed information and may turn to specialists – people who can help them understand scripture, to be their spiritual advisors, to lead them in faith discussions or Bible study and to guide them in how to make the Gospel come alive in the world through social justice and works of charity.
We need not try and do it all by ourselves.
The ultimate project manager of our faith life is God and we need to continually check in with Jesus on how we are doing and to seek further guidance.
In today’s Gospel Jesus said: “Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen…”
In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians there was encouragement to keep making progress in the type of life that God’s wants us to live.
Part of the idea of Christian living is to live with the end in mind – not just get caught up in the rut of everyday living like the rest of the crowd.
What I have decided to do during Advent is to read Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation on the Call to Holiness in today’s world, a document released earlier this year. I’ve read snippets but I haven’t taken the time to read prayerfully through the whole document. This is one way of beginning with the end in mind.
Back to the author Ron Rolheiser. In ‘The Holy Longing’ he writes:
“Thomas Merton once said that the biggest spiritual problem of our time is efficiency, work, pragmatism; by the time we keep the plant running there is little time and energy for anything else.
“Neil Postman suggests that, as a culture, we are amusing ourselves to death, that is, distracting ourselves into a bland, witless superficiality.
“Henri Nouwen has written eloquently on how our greed for experience and the restlessness, hostility, and fantasy it generates blocks solitude, hospitality and prayer in our lives.
“They are right. What each of these authors and countless others are saying is that we, for every kind of reason, good and bad, are distracting ourselves into spiritual oblivion.
“It is not that we have anything against God, depth, and spirit – we would like these – it is just that we are habitually too preoccupied to have any of these show up on our radar screen,” wrote Ron Rolheiser.
So, we are given seasons like Advent to take stock of how we are doing in constructing our faith life. To look at the end we have in mind.
If your life was to end tomorrow, what are the areas you might regret not having been formed more fully in as a Christian?
The answer to that question is where your focus can be prioritised during Advent and the new Church year.
-Deacon Tony Hoban