The Deacon's Bench

Over Thanksgiving, my wife and I traveled down to Maryland to spend time with my in-laws. And while we were there, I met a remarkable young man, Jacob Francis Keller.

He is a doctor, a lawyer, a philosopher, an engineer and a poet.

He is also an adventurer, and a visionary, and an artist and a musician.

I should mention here that Jacob Keller is also four weeks old.

IMG_1465.JPGJacob is my grand nephew, my sister in law’s first grandchild. And while we gave thanks and ate dinner, and he slept, you could hear anyone and everyone speculate on what he would be when he grew up. Someone even suggested that he looked so peaceful and serene, maybe he’d be a priest.

Frankly, if he were to become a priest, that would be the end of any serenity and peace. But that’s a subject for another homily.

I have no idea what Jacob thought of any of this. He spent much of our visit asleep — dreaming his own dreams of who he is, and who he will be.

The beautiful fact is: when you are that new, anything is possible. And while having this tiny newborn in our midst offered us all a foretaste of Christmas, I think he also offered us something more immediate.

In his promise and his possibility, his hope and his anticipation, Jacob offered us Advent.

This season is one of expectation – and it is also a time of preparation. And that small child, a citizen of the world for just a few short weeks, reminded us that with every breath, every moment, every day…life is a work in progress. And so, of course, is Advent. It is the start of a new liturgical year, a time of beginnings. But the greatest beginning of all, the birth of Christ, is still weeks away. So Advent is the “now,” and the “not yet.” It is the waiting for something that will be.

Advent is the tree waiting for lights, the package waiting for wrapping paper, the child waiting on a wish.

It is the candle waiting for a flame, the manger waiting for a baby.

It is the world waiting for its savior.

This year, Advent may also be the father waiting for a job, or business owner waiting for a sale, or the mother with a family waiting for the next unemployment check.

Everything, and everyone, waits.

And Jacob Keller, in his smallness and newness, waits to see what life has in store. So do his parents and grandparents and all the rest of us. We wait, like we pray every Sunday, at every mass, in joyful hope.

And while we wait this Advent, there is work to be done. The prophet Isaiah cries out to us this week, telling us to level the mountains and fill in the valleys and straighten the roads. Prepare! But I think he’s talking about more than moving dirt. He’s talking about each of us. There is work we need to do before our salvation arrives, before God is with us.

We are challenged to redraw the map of our lives. What are the mountains? What are the barriers keeping others out – and keeping us in? Maybe it’s the rocky hill of ambition. Or the flat wall of anger. Or the slippery slope of envy. What are the valleys we descend into? What are the winding, crooked roads that we follow? The geography may be so much more complicated than we realize.

And so, the voice in the desert calls out to each of us: look at your world. Survey the landscape. How can we regain our bearings?

Make it happen.

Move the earth.

Because doing that will make us accessible to God. It will make it so much easier for Him to enter in.

And, entering in is a big part of tonight’s liturgy. We began this mass with a knock on the door. And we welcomed the members of this year’s RCIA class. For a minute my mind flashed back to the old children’s game: here is the church, here’s the steeple, open the doors and see all the people.

Well, HERE is the church. And it IS all the people. And you candidates are about to become a part of it. I can only echo the beautiful words in this weekend’s epistle:

This is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception,

And as Paul puts it:

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it.

That is the prayer on our lips this evening. A prayer of welcome. A prayer of hope. A prayer of waiting.

A prayer, really, of Advent.

I’m sure, in some way, that is the prayer of the parents of Jacob Francis Keller, too: a yearning for new life to become full, and to grow and to become everything that it can. Who doesn’t want that for a child?

In the weeks ahead, let’s make that our prayer as well for the new child that is Advent – a hope waiting to be realized, a promise waiting to be fulfilled.

And while we wait, break out the shovels. There is earth to be moved. There is work to do.

But we hold fast to Paul’s words: that the one who began a good work in us…will continue to complete it.

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