Keeping God Off Your List

December 3, 2011

Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Mark 1:1-8

The upcoming holiday season is a special time. It is a time of gifts and parties, a time of carols and special foods. It is also a time for lists. I very seldom make a list for myself but this time of the year I need to put one together. There is simply too much going on, so many things to be done. Unless I write down what I plan to do some very important things can slip through the cracks. Now some of you who are listening carefully might be saying to yourself, “I know where he’s going to go with this homily. He is going to tell us, ‘Make sure that you include God on your list.’”  This is a insightful guess, but it is not the direction of this homily. In fact, I am about to warn you not to put God on your list. Let me tell you why.

The center of the gospel and the particular announcement of Advent is that God is coming. Isaiah cries out in the first reading, “Here comes with power, the Lord God.” John the Baptist announces in the Gospel, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”  The message of salvation, then, is not that we are coming to God but that God is coming to us. This is why we cannot put God on a list. We enumerate things on a list because they are the things that we plan to do. But salvation is what God plans to do. We write things down because they are things over which we have control. But the most important things are the things over which God has control.

Now of course, we can put down on our list certain things with God in mind. It would be very smart for you to figure out at what Mass you plan to worship this Christmas. It would be wise for you to set aside some time for quiet prayer and reflection during these busy days. Your family would be thankful if you planned the holidays in such a way that there will be an opportunity for quality time with one another. But planning these things is no guarantee that God will arrive because we have scheduled them. God is planning to come when God plans to come. God’s schedule may not match our list.

God could be strangely silent in the times that we have set aside for prayer and reflection but speak with thunder in the supermarket as we talk to Mrs. Dillon about the death of her husband. God could be somehow missing from our Christmas dinner table but become almost tangible one night as we put our children to sleep. God could be elusive during Midnight Mass but appear in glory when Uncle Henry tells yet again one of his stories about the old neighborhood.

God could come at any time. That is why what we need is not a list but an openness, not a plan but a sense of expectation. That is why, during the next few weeks and, indeed, every week of our lives, we should be people of anticipation. In any comment, in any action, in any event, it is possible for God to come. We do ourselves a disservice by limiting our anticipation only to the events we have planned.

God is not an item we can check off our list. God is the Lord. Jesus is the reason for the season. Watch then, for his coming.

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