Advent, a time to prepare our hearts: A homily for the First Sunday of Advent

thToday we begin Advent. I love this season. I love the snow, the drear, the eggnog. On Friday night Msgr. and I spent a good while working on our trees until 1am. Then we put up some outdoor lights. I love this season. I love the hustle and bustle, the parties and concerts, and I love the wreaths and the candles. I love the packed roads and stores, the late sunrises and early sunsets. I love the music and the movies. I love it all. But yesterday morning the Lord hit me over the head. I was in my holy hour thanking God that this time of year is upon us, precisely for the things I just mentioned. And he came and said, “You idiot! That stuff is good, but don’t let it be your focus. Let me be your focus!”

And it dawned on me that my heart was not in the right place. Our readings today are all about the heart as Providence would have it. In our second reading, one of the earliest Christian documents we’ve got, St. Paul was telling the Thessalonians: Strengthen your hearts, get them ready, so that when the Lord comes you’re ready and excited to welcome his arrival. The same in the Gospel. Jesus tells his disciples, don’t let your hearts become drowsy! The Gospel says that when Jesus comes, everything is going to change. We would die of fright if we understood what was about to happen, the Lord says. Best to have hearts ready for that moment, hearts that are awake and open, hearts that desire our God more than eggnog, more than anything else in the world.

That’s our work of Advent: to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord. That is what our journey to Bethlehem is all about. We’ve got to get our hearts into shape so that when the Lord comes, our hearts are ablaze for him, our hearts are hungry for him, thirsty for the Lord. Our collect at Mass, it says that in Advent, we should desire God so much that we run forth to meet him, that we run to Bethlehem! Not wait and sit till he comes, but to eagerly await that moment, to run towards it, to desire it more than anything.

I see this every day. Recently at NCYC, we had 24,000 kids kneeling in adoration at Lucas Oil. Many were in tears, as I was. That’s the desire for God I’m talking about. We just had 150 first confessions here, too. They were sincere, beautiful. That’s the desire our hearts should have also. We need only look to the hearts of second graders for an example of where we should be.

Now a lot of us have drowsy hearts, weak hearts, hearts burdened by this or that. That was the lot of the folks in our first reading. And the psalm–it tells us that we have to lift up our hearts. We say that at Mass every day. Sometimes it takes a lot of lifting, so overwhelmed, so tired, so distracted are we. But to prepare our hearts—that is our Advent quest, our Advent duty. It may tkae some work but it will be worth it on Christmas day.

Jeff made my day yesterday when he told me that this Christmas Eve, we will sing, “In the Bleak Midwinter.” Here are the last two verses:

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air –
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give Him –
Give my heart.

Pray God that when Christmas Day comes, when our Advent journeys are over, we will have a heart on fire, a heart filled with love to give to our God in the manger.