Run forth and pour forth
1st Sunday of Advent
4th Sunday of Advent
I recently noticed a young man running down the street in the pouring rain. He ran with his arms flapping wildly, wearing a T-shirt and baggy pants and not wearing socks or shoes. His long wet hair hung in his eyes and he appeared filthy dirty. The youth ran in the opposite direction of people standing in line waiting for our hospitality center to open. I noticed that he was running in the wrong direction for us to help him. He had the resolve to run in the cold wearing little clothing, but I do not know where he got the help he needed. He did not seem to be running toward change or even toward consolation.
I realize, as we begin this new liturgical year, that I am the only person standing in the opposite direction of the congregation as I pray these opening collects at Mass. Until I witnessed the young man running wildly away from our ability to help him, I never noticed my posture in the sanctuary while praying the collect. I pray that my heart is focused on the coming of Christ Jesus. I want to be running toward love and consolation. I also stand with my arms open, praying even against the flow of every other person.
I minister among people who desperately run to find God in their present life situations. This is often so difficult, not only in the Advent season but in any season of the year. The collect for the First Sunday of Advent implies that we all have a deep relationship with God so that we can all run toward the prize of Christ that is waiting for us. This is where many people stumble and fall; so many feel unworthy of God and judged by the church. People suffering long-term mental illness rarely discover God in their circumstances of isolation and fear. The battle-weary soldier lives only in fear after leaving the desert sands of war. The sickly grandmother aches to have her children near, but she has not heard from them in years. Advent prayers of waiting for the birth of a savior do not comfort the mother suffering her third miscarriage. We all seem to be running in different directions, all praying to be at Christ's side.
This collect reminds me of people who run from their past to escape their pain. Others run from their futures, feeling life will remain difficult because they have never known anything other than suffering. They also run to escape the pain and threats of today. Still others do not feel worthy of God's love at all. People's lives remind me that the liturgies of Advent begin a threefold awareness of God. We praise God for the works of the past, for Jesus born in the world. We look ahead to the end of time, when we will be united again in the kingdom in Christ's second coming. We open our hearts and minds in prayer knowing Christ is already here among us in the present. In our assemblies' worship, God is revealed in the past, in our present, and in the future. The liturgical prayers and Scriptures all proclaim this threefold presence and invitation to prayer. I must cling to this hope in Advent.
I pray the collect for the Fourth Sunday begging God for a message from an angel to guide all of our lives and hearts into the healing direction of love and mercy. In these Advent days, people in every parish community seem to be running without direction, with little to sustain them in the search for love, hope, and peace. The Advent season lived and prayed in every worshiping assembly invites us to orient our hearts' desire into the enduring love that is born among us still. We all desire to be welcomed by God and one another in this season of grace.
As John the Baptist proclaims in the Scriptures during this holy season, I point my heart and life in the direction of God. I model my heart from the ancient prophet who called out in the wild. I am so aware that many people feel left behind, even with John the Baptist's help. I ache for the day that we will all find our place in Christ Jesus, at his holy right hand in the kingdom of God. Finding the real direction toward love is up to all who follow the way of Christ. The love we run toward is in our righteous deeds, in serving people who have lost their way. There is so much work to be done before we take our final place at Christ's right hand: being present with those in our midst who cannot help themselves. I pray for the resolve of all to run to meet our Christ. ML
Rev. Ronald Patrick Raab, CSC, serves as associate pastor at St. Andre Bessette Church in Old Town, Portland, Ore. He broadcasts On the Margins, a weekly Scripture commentary on radio KBVM.fm. Learn more at www.ronaldraab.com.