Happy New Year! Today we begin the new liturgical year with the First Sunday in Advent. We also begin our four-part message series entitled, What are you waiting for?
What are you waiting for … FOCUS!
We live in a world filled with trials, temptations, distractions and deceptions. Therefore, as Christians we must nevertheless try and remain focused and maintain a right course, especially if we live and work around sincere and well-meaning people who do not share our values and convictions. It can sometimes be easy to forget that there are plenty of dangerous traps to deceive and destroy the unwary believer. We also know that the Bible is filled with warnings about the consequences of losing our focus and it gives us plenty of instructions for staying on course— if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear! So, what are you waiting for?
There is an old saying that those who do not learn the lessons of history will repeat the mistakes of history. The Sacred Scriptures record many examples of this fundamental truth.
Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden because their focus was diverted away from God’s instructions in listening to Satan and his subtly twisted half-truths, following their own flawed human reasoning.
The ancient nation of Israel went into captivity because it followed misguided leaders and focused on pagan ways of worship instead of following God’s holy commandments.
David got into trouble, and Solomon’s heir lost the ten-tribed House of Israel, because they began to focus on the physical creation, instead of obeying their Creator and His instructions.
Scripture has recorded these examples for the admonition of Christians in order to remind us to keep our focus.
The second reading today is from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians. In it, Paul writes to a Church that also needs perspective and focus. Considering itself ready for the Lord’s coming, the Corinthian Church will learn in this letter how woefully unprepared the apostle thinks it really is. The Church in Corinth is marked by:
Theological errors and unethical practices;
Forgetting the poor;
Constant infighting; and
Interest in self-advancement.
Some might suggest that unfortunately, these are still hallmarks of our church today!
At the letter’s beginning, Paul celebrates the fact that for all their faults, the Corinthians are nevertheless a true Christian community. He reminds them that God alone keeps them faithful.
The true gospel message that Jesus Christ proclaimed will surprise many professing Christians who have lost their focus. The world generally assumes that Jesus came with a gentle message about love, grace and salvation for all who give their heart to the Lord and who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, without any personal response. Yet the Bible reveals that even demons believe that Jesus is the Son of God.
Jesus, by contrast, commissioned His disciples to preach the true gospel, emphasizing the reality of the coming Kingdom of God. This was the gospel Christ preached before His crucifixion. Jesus emphasized that to be in God’s kingdom, one must repent of sin and must keep the commandments of God. In other words – we are called to FOCUS on Him and live our lives accordingly, each to the best of our ability.
After His resurrection, Jesus told the disciples that they were to be witnesses to the world that His suffering, death and resurrection were necessary for the forgiveness of sin. And even after His resurrection, Jesus continued to focus on the Kingdom of God, as did His disciples.
Sadly, over the years, some have lost sight of the gospel of the kingdom, and the challenges and sacrifices it requires, mistakenly watering down the challenges of the Gospel, and reducing the Church to a sort of casual Christian country club. In the days of Jesus and in our day too, there surely have been and are plenty of misguided leaders who have lost the proper focus, causing confusion, doubt and scandal.
The Church founded by Jesus Christ and His apostles can be recognized—if we focus on what we see revealed in the Scriptures, Sacred Tradition and the teaching of the magisterium. Each of these sources of God’s revelation can help us to better our focus on what really matters on how we are to live and to leave in the blur those things that are unimportant and even detrimental to our faith and our everlasting life.
In the stories of faith, the disciples were not just preaching about a cute little baby Jesus who loved everybody. They did not portray the Church as a mere spiritual hospital for lost souls. They were preaching about a real coming kingdom and the return of a powerful Christ who will shake the nations and restore the government of God to this earth – sorting out the sheep from the goats! Yikes!
The challenge facing us Christians today is to stay focused on the right priorities: the true God, the real Jesus, the word of God, the true Gospel, the servant Church. As Christians, we are called to develop the knowledge and character that God can use, to accomplish the mission of His Church and bring to fruition His great plan.
In these days of Advent, perhaps our New Year’s Resolutions can be working to increase our spiritual attention by:
Identifying our distractions
Pray regularly, asking God to help us find practical ways to minimize distractions
Asking God to speak through His word and show us each time one specific thing to focus on
Regularly reading God’s word in the Bible
Pondering and praying about the one thing that stands out as we read
Reflecting on one way we can apply what’s been read
Writing it down – keeping an Advent journal
On this first Sunday of Advent, despite the ominous message of Mark’s Gospel that warns us to “Watch, therefore; because we do not know when the Lord of the house is coming” we are reminded of a number of things that are comforting:
All of us fall short of God’s expectations and in love our God does not harden his heart against us but makes possible a way for us to gain his presence again – focus.
Despite our imperfections, our sins, and our weaknesses, we are unified in our Christian community through Christ. We grow in him and are strengthened by him. Let’s pray for each other in our community too!
Though God understands our weaknesses, we are called to overcome those weaknesses in Christ.
We pray that by our improved focus, and God’s grace, that through Christ that we will be found blameless on the last day.
So, what are we waiting for? Let’s get to it!