Advent and the Fear of the Lord: 1st Sunday of Advent
It’s Advent! A new liturgical year is upon us. As with each Advent, we hear the reminder on this Sunday to be on guard and alert. “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life. … Be alert at all times.”
The alertness that Jesus refers to is not related to the heightened security we experience throughout the world as we grow in fear of possible terrorist attacks, walking the streets with eyes wide open for anything or anyone suspicious.
The alertness Jesus speaks of has nothing to do with unhealthy fear. Jesus says, “Stand up and raise your heads.” That is hardly an image of cowering and hiding. It is pride.
However, scripture does encourage us to have a healthy fear of the Lord. Today’s scripture includes Psalm 25, with its reminder that “the friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him.” Fear of the Lord is one of the seven traditional gifts of the Holy Spirit. It’s the gift that helps us to be aware of the glory and majesty of God.
Words such as wonder and awe help us comprehend what this gift offers us. A helpful analogy might be to think of what happens when we stand in the presence of someone we admire and respect. I spent several months in the early 1990s volunteering at Mother Teresa’s home for the dying in India.
The first time I met her I was trembling with nervousness. I had admired her for so long and I knew I was standing in the presence of someone often referred to as a living saint. I couldn’t help but contrast this holy woman with my own smallness. It is natural for us to feel that way upon meeting our heroes. How much more should I tremble when I find myself in the presence of God’s goodness!
Fr. Alfred Delp was a Jesuit priest in Nazi Germany. He was condemned as a traitor for his resistance to Hitler. He wrote a beautiful Advent reflection shortly before he was hanged in 1945. The Shaking Reality of Advent reminds us that we are always in need of being shaken up. Delp is speaking of the complacency that we can move into in times such as his or our own.
Advent serves as a reminder to be stirred from our sleep. Delp says, “All right, it was night; but let that be over now and let us be ready for the day.” Delp’s statement about his times is apropos for our strange times. “The great question to us is whether we are still capable of being truly shocked” or whether “we stand unshocked, unstirred, inwardly unmoved.”
Advent’s wakefulness is not mere a movement in our hearts. It must make us alert to all that is happening around us. Let’s allow ourselves to be roused from our slumber! Complacency in the face of world events won’t help.