FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT (December 2, 2018)

Today, the beginning of the church year suggests New Year’s resolutions as we begin the season of Advent. The point of this homily is to suggest a growth area that will strengthen the vigilance to which the Gospel calls us.

Nathaniel Branden, the bestselling author of The Psychology of Self-esteem spoke at a men’s conference. He chose for his topic: “Six pillars of self-esteem.”

One of the pillars is self-responsibility. When Branden is working with clients, he stresses the fact: nothing will improve unless we take responsibility for our own thoughts, our own feelings, and our own actions.

To focus attention on the importance of assuming responsibility, he uses the phrase: no one is coming to encourage clients to take hold of what is happening in our lives. The cavalry is not going to come over the hill. No one is coming is a framed poster on his office wall. One time, a satisfied client objected: “You came.” “Correct,” said Branden. “But I came to tell you no one is coming.”

This echoes the saying in divorce support groups about their painful situation: “You can’t go under it; you can’t go over it; you can’t go around it; you have to go through it.”

The first day of Advent reminds us that Advent means arrival/coming. It seems strange to say today, no one is coming?

Prayer does not mean that we expect Jesus to come like a genie out of a bottle to cure our illness, to help us get a job, to get us straight “A’s”, to change the people we live with or deal with the outside.

We pray for great miracles. Great miracles are relatively rare. The truth is that when we pray earnestly, healthily, and often, it isn’t the situation that changes: we are the ones who change.

If I were to discover that I have cancer, I would pray that I would be cured. But, I know that the answer of my God to all prayer is not “yes.” So, I pray with that in mind. I take responsibility for the appropriate procedures. And, in the event that I am not recovering, I put my affairs in good order, and anticipate the joy to come. I change

An alternative is to get angry with God because he did not do what I wanted him to do when I prayed or, get angry with others who should have cured me. I can then turn my head to the wall, away from God, saying that God doesn’t listen, that God doubtfully exists, and die in noisy or quiet despair. That is not love.

Do I waste time playing the “blame game”? Do I accuse my family for being dysfunctional? Blame my church for being dysfunctional? Point my finger at someone else for my misery and wallow in my plight of being a victim? Or, do I recognize them for what they are, but do not allow them to paralyze me or lead me to despair? I learn do what I can with what I’ve got.

What about my responsibility in my situations of conflict? It is important not to wait passively for the lord to come to get me justice, but to take responsibility. I may need to confront someone in a healthy, Christian way. God calls me to do my part, to be assertive, thinking: “You are not going to ruin my day.”

We need to “be alert, be vigilant, and be on guard” as the Gospel says. Those are “taking-responsibility-phrases” that serve us daily and go far beyond being only an attitude for the final days.

Persons who are alert and on guard do not let others have control over their emotions or sanity. That is one of the reasons that we are “alert and on guard.”

Perhaps during this Advent, we can come to a deeper appreciation of the truth of the advice of Nathaniel Branden: “No one is coming.” The truth is: first, Our Lord is already here with us; he does not have to come. Second, I am becoming. I am becoming the person Jesus and his Father, and the Holy Spirit are calling me to become - and help be in my becoming - and, God is not finished with me yet.

Having said all this, don’t forget that someone is in fact coming.

Santa Claus!