1st Sunday of Advent
There are programs designed to help people deal with the problem of addiction – be it the addiction to alcohol, gambling, pornography, sex, or video games. According to experts in these programs, the two things that block people access to them are: Denial: “I don’t have a problem. I’m fine.” Trust in one’s own ability: “I can handle my own problem. I can solve it by myself. I don’t need any help.” Unless the addict admits his or her problem, and unless he or she seeks or accepts help, he or she cannot be redeemed from addiction.
The Bible tells us that sin is our biggest problem, and it has the power to control us. According to Bishop Robert Barron, “Sin is a problem that ‘has’ me, and that I am not able, through my own effort, to solve.” Like addiction, sin has the power to enslave us – be it the sin of lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, anger, envy, or pride. But the Bible also tells us that there is someone greater than our sins: God – who wants to free us from the slavery of sin.
However, there is a part of us that blocks or prevents us from allowing God to free or save us from sin – a part of us that says, “I don’t have a problem. I’m not committing any sin.” Or the more dangerous attitude – a part of us that says, “Yes, I have a problem with a particular sin – maybe greed or anger or pride – but I trust my own ability.” I can stop it. I can free myself from it. I don’t need help. It’s no big deal. I can save myself!” It is just like someone who is addicted to alcohol or drugs who foolishly says, “I can handle it myself.”
Admitting our own weakness in the presence of this debilitating problem of sin is the first step. Listen to what the prophet Isaiah has to say in today’s first reading. He is speaking to God: “Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful; all of us have become unclean men, all our good deeds are like polluted rags; we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind.” Isaiah confronts us with our own sinfulness – forcing us to face our problem with sin. And he tells us that we cannot ‘handle’ by ourselves – because “our guilt carries us away like the wind.”
Today, as we begin the season of Advent, may we be able to say: “I admit I have a problem… I’m enslaved by sin… I cannot solve it… Thus, I surrender myself to a higher power… I turn my life over to God.” This is a good Advent prayer. Let us say it together… What we are doing here, according to Robert Barron, is that we are de-centering ourselves. Meaning, we are honestly and humbly admitting that the solution to our problem is not ourselves. And by de-centering ourselves, we begin to look for and to wait for Someone greater than ourselves.
Advent recognizes the fact and the truth that the entry of Christ into our life, into every part of our life, is still unfinished. There is still much of us that needs to be redeemed: like dark corners to be illumined, unclean recesses to be cleansed, empty spaces to be filled up, wounded parts to be healed, broken pieces to be restored. As the Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it, “The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.”
Each year, we discover that there is more of our life into which Jesus needs to be welcomed – to be born! That is why Advent each year is about the expectation of new light, of cleansing spirit, of sufficient fill, of much-needed restoration and healing. Advent is about a new birth of Christ in us. It is about the Lord’s coming into our life.
The French spiritual writer Simone Weil said that the core Christian life is waiting. Advent is the great season of waiting… waiting for someone to come… someone who can solve our problem… someone who can save us. This is what we expressed in our entrance hymn: O come, O come, Emmanuel And ransom captive Israel That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear The Church urges us to move into the rhythm of this song and to personalize it, that is: to ask the Lord Jesus to come and ransom us… for we are captives of sin. Jesus Christ alone can free us from exile.