1 Advent: Hope in the Lord, and Be Ready to Take the Shot


            Advent is the season of hope.  Hope is certainly the appropriate feeling for this particular time in our American epoch. We are in the middle of a new election cycle. Every candidate expresses a hope for the future of the country if he or she is elected. Some might even be serious about it. But presidents come and go.  Nations themselves rise and fall.  But Jesus Christ, the One who is the Eternal Word of the Father, the One who entered into our history by becoming one of us, the One who is at the Right Hand of the Father, Jesus Christ is forever. “Only in God be at rest my soul, from him comes my hope, ” we pray in Psalm 62.


            Advent is the season of hope. Today’s Gospel tells us that we need to hope, and we need to watch. And we need to take the shot. Let me tell you about an exciting high school soccer match where one of our young men starred.  Our young man, spent the afternoon running back and forth, hoping and waiting,  then with only thirty seconds left in the game the ball came to him near the goal.  He was ready.  He took the shot.  Game over.


            Hope in the Lord, and be ready to take the shot.  Watch and be ready.  That’s what this First Sunday of Advent is all about.


            But how can we watch if we are distracted?  If the young man wasn’t completely focused on the game, and instead was thinking about how he really wanted some of his favorite food, Chicken Fettuccini Alfredo, he would not have been where he needed to be to receive that pass.  If our lives are distracted by that which is not the Lord, we are not going to be ready when He passes the ball to us.  If our hope is in Chicken Fettuccini Alfredo, our any of the material goods of the world, if we get caught up in the sickness of the world, if we use drink, drugs, sex and what have you as a relief from our difficulties, we are not going to be ready for His particular entrance into our lives.


            What is it that you hope for, that we hope for?  We hope for union with our loved ones who have died. Well, we need to stay united to the Lord and be ready when He comes for us.


            We all hope for love.  The young hope for a person they can commit themselves to and grow in love.   Beauty and virility will fade with time. Only the sacrificial love of the Lord is forever. If the young place their hope in the Lord, and are open to His Love, and live a life of sacrificial love, giving themselves to others and rejecting all selfish inclinations, they will be ready to take the shot if God calls them to love through another person.


            We single people may not be called to marriage but are called to expand the possibilities of making His Love real.  If we stay united to Him, and are open to Him, we  will be ready to take the shot, make His love real, in ways we least expect.  I have to tell you, I always knew that I wanted to be a priest, but I never thought that my priesthood would take the directions which it has.  Like all priests, I worry about the times that I have not been ready and have not taken the shot when the Lord passed me the ball. But I also thank God for the times that I have been ready for Him.  I spent my last years of training for the priesthood as a chaplain for children with cancer. I never thought I would do that, or could do that, but my  need for a pastoral ed course in hospital ministry, and an elderly priest’s need for a younger man to spend time with the children and families on the oncology floor on a permanent basis resulted in my taking  the shot and  receiving much more than I gave.  Eventually it all  ended up with me here in the Diocese of St. Petersburg and in this parish.  Life is beautiful when we hope in the Lord and are ready for His call. I am certain that every single person can tell a story of how life has been enriched by hoping in God and responding when He called.


            The married are continually called to grow in His Love.  But it takes tremendous sacrifice.  Your way or her way, his way?  The way of the Lord is the way of sacrificial love.  You hope in the Lord.  The opportunity comes for you to express his love to your spouse.  You take the shot.  You chance your spouse rejecting your attempts to love him or her more.  But that is what love is, love is being vulnerable to rejection. So you take the shot.  That shot might be something as minor as making your wife chicken soup when she is sick, or calling your husband during the work day just to say, “I love you,” or it might be as major as trusting in God to care for your family if a new baby is in His plan.  You place your hope in the Lord and are ready for whenever and however He calls you.


            Many have adopted children or taken in foster children.  They knew that they would have no control over those forces that afflicted the child during pregnancy and early childhood.  But they also knew that their hope was in the Lord. And when the time came, when the agency called, when the ball was passed, it was their hope in the Lord that kept them open to take the shot.  And now they say, “I am so much richer because of my daughter, my son.  God has been so good to me.”  Yes, he has been good to you and to me and to all of us.  And His Greatest blessing has been leading us to places in our lives, leading us to a way of living, where we are open to His particular call. 


            Jesus said to His disciples, “Be Watchful.  Be Alert.”  None of us know what the Lord has in store for us.  Will we be taking the same courses next year, going to the same school, living in the same neighborhood, doing the same job? Will our family be bigger or smaller? Will we even be here in Florida, or here on earth?  Whatever the year, whatever our lives bring us, all will be wonderful, exciting, beautiful and full of love, as long as our hope is in the Lord. 


            If our hope is in the Lord, we will be ready to take the shot when He passes the ball of His Love to us.