Monday, December 11, 2006

Second Sunday of Advent

I always find preaching on this Sunday something of a challenge since the lectionary texts always center around the person of John the Baptist. After awhile one begins to wonder, "What hasn't been said about this odd prophetic ascetic from the wild places?" Fr. Robert Pierson, the homilist at St. John's yesterday, chose to focus our attention on one of the primal images in the New Testament--the "way." Growing up as a kid, he said, the Interstate Highway system was something of a marvel--cutting traveling times in half and allowing one to get to one's destination much more quickly.

But the road is also treated metaphorically throughout scripture as means of describing our journey with God. "Prepare the way. . . make straight his paths," the herald cries out. Fr. Pierson pointed out that we tend to get easily distracted along the way, sometimes even peeling off the highway and getting lost. This tendency is reflected in our journey with God, as well, sometimes forgetting our destination and allowing ourselves to get sucked into the distraction. Advent, he reminded us, is a time for renewing our desire for the destination of the journey. To hear, once again, the voice of God and to surrender to the love of Jesus which compels us ever onward. That voice and that love provide for us direction that leads us out of our own self-centeredness. God, Fr. Robert claimed, invites us to come home as quickly as we can.

This time at St. John's has allowed me to listen, afresh and anew, to that compelling voice and to ask, "What do I hope to accomplish in these last 15 to 20 years of my professional career? What is it I want to be remembered for?" As we gathered one last time as an entire group of sabbaticants yesterday afternoon in the beautiful sunshine of a December day, we shared with one another one word to describe the character of each. I was surprised that several spoke of me as caring and focused on others. This certainly would not have described my first thirty or so years of life. Certainly my wife's empathy for others has rubbed off, to some extent, over the last thirty years! But, I think what is really at stake here is getting close to the heart of God. Whenever I get so busy and overwhelmed by work, I can't hear the voice of God as clearly and I tend to become much more egocentric and shrill around others. If this sabbatical has taught me anything it is that keeping close to God's heart, listening, reflecting, finding time for solitude and silence, is not only necessary to my well-being but also to my ability to care for and love others. So, Lord, keep me close to you so that I can, over the next few years left to me, learn to care for others and be sensitive to their needs.