Sermon For the Second Sunday in Advent
Do you remember, especially as a child, that period in between a promise being made to you and the fulfillment of the promise?
Perhaps it was the promise of a new pet, a trip, or perhaps the promise of a trip to the ice cream parlour later in the afternoon. With a promise always comes that time before the promise is fulfilled: that time of anxious anticipation, of waiting and watching for that good thing to come, but of not having that joy yet.
This is Advent. Advent is that same moment of waiting and watching. Of thirsting, but not having water, of being hungry, but not being fed…yet.
Fr. Alfred Delp was a German Jesuit priest who entered the Jesuit order at a time when the social and political conditions through which the Nazis would come to power were already in motion.
Fr. Delp worked for a time for a Jesuit publication and preached regularly at a church in Munich. When the publication was raided and shut down by the Nazis, Fr. Delp was made Rector of St. George’s Church in Munich. There he preached sermons in which were critiques of the ruling Nazi party’s policies and practices, even though he knew the Gestapo (secret police) were monitoring him.
He eventually came to work with the German resistance movement against Nazism and was an important figure in the underground network that helped escaping Jews flee Germany. In 1944 a failed assassination plot against Hitler resulted in the sweeping arrests of thousands, including Fr. Delp and other members of the Christian resistance.
Delp faced weeks of agonizing torture following his arrest, and when he would not admit to anything nor offer any information, he was handcuffed and placed in solitary confinement for 5 months.
At 3:23pm on the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, February 2nd, 1945, Fr. Delp was hanged alongside two others accused of treason.
All of Fr. Delp’s writings have been collected into a book that I am reading this Advent and allowing to guide my preaching, called Advent of the Heart. It contains both Advent sermons of his that were recorded by parishioners, and reflections he wrote on Advent from prison that were smuggled out to his friends on the outside.
During his fifth month of solitary confinement, hands bound in fetters 24 hours a day, Delp wrote the words, “More, and on a deeper level than before, we really know this time that all of life is Advent.”
Delp, through his sufferings, through knowing that his end would soon come, through his waiting and watching for the Lord, saw that all of our lives are waiting and watching with anticipation for the coming of the Lord.
In Advent we wait, watch, and prepare for the coming of Christ at his birth, but our whole lives are periods of waiting and preparing for Him to return and fulfill his promise of salvation to us.
Remember the words of St. Paul in Romans, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:22-23).
We will see Love enter this world and lay in a feeding trough in Bethlehem, but we continue even now to wait with anticipation for His return when all creation will be set right.
When all creation will be redeemed.
When the peace, the hope, the joy, and the love he promises will finally be fulfilled.
The prophets of old foretold the coming of this redemption, this we hear all through Advent as we read Isaiah, “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord…Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill be made low…Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together…’” (Isa. 40:3-5).
What Fr. Delp realized, and what we must realize, is that all our lives are Advent.
Our lives are spent in that in-between time between the promise being made and the promise being fulfilled.
Just like the attentiveness, watchfulness, and excitement that children get in the time between promising a trip to the ice cream parlour and the fulfillment of promise, we must live our lives with excitement, watchfulness, and attentiveness to Christ.
John the Baptist knew the Lord’s coming was near and so he, a prophet, urged others to be prepared so that they might recognize him when he comes, “[he] appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” but John was always forthright about who this preparation was for, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me…I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:4-7).
The themes of Advent: hope, peace, joy, love, are all reminders of why we should be prepared. Of what we are waiting for. These are the promises; these things are the ice cream parlour.
Let us this Advent cultivate within ourselves anticipation and watchfulness.
May the Holy Spirit descend upon us this Advent, enter our hearts, shake us up from our sleep and break the chains of all the things that bind us and that keep us from recognizing and knowing Him and his presence.
May we, like Fr. Delp, come to see that Advent is not just a season, but a state of our hearts.