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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - Naming What We All Know

Robert Barron - Naming What We All Know

Robert Barron - Naming What We All Know

Peace be with you, and happy new year. As we come to this first Sunday of Advent, we come to the beginning of a new liturgical year. Advent, like Lent, is properly a penitential season. We don't often make that connection. We see it clearly in regard to Lent. But to enter into Advent, to prepare for the coming of the Savior, is to enter into our need for a Savior. Let me say that again. If we're going to appreciate the coming of the Savior, we have to feel, viscerally, our need for a Savior. Because if we don't feel the need, well then Jesus is, "Well, interesting figure and great ethical teacher". But he's Savior in the measure that we know we've got something we need to be saved from. I often reference the 12-step program because it's so rich spiritually. And part of that process for someone who's caught in an addiction is to recognize that you've hit bottom, that's to recognize your need for help.

If you're still convinced that, well, no, you're okay, you can solve this problem yourself, you're not ready to begin. So I'd say in the spiritual order, if we find ourselves saying, "Well, I'm basically fine. I can solve all this". Well then, I'm not going to be ready for the coming of the Savior. And that's why I always invite people, as you commence the Advent season, to enter into that famous, it's very ancient, hymn that we sing at every Advent: "O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel". See, unless you feel captive, you're caught, you've got chains around you that you can't extricate yourself from, unless and until you feel that viscerally, you're not ready for the Savior. Only when in your lonely captivity, you cry out, "O come, O come, Emmanuel, God with us". Until you reach that point, you're not ready for the coming of the Savior.

And so that's a great spiritual practice during these weeks of Advent. I would share with many people the worry that we just forget, we sort of blow past Advent, that we're so caught up in the Christmas season from Halloween on. No, no, we miss this very important penitential season. Well, how wonderful: the Church gives us now, as we commence Advent, a beautiful reading. It's from the sixty-third chapter of the prophet Isaiah. And Isaiah, as you know, is the great Old Testament Advent figure. Well, what he does now in this passage, and I think it's a beautiful point of meditation for all of us, he gives us a series of images, each one meant to evoke this sense of loss and pain and helplessness. Until we enter into the power of these images, we won't know what it's like to long for the Savior.

So what I want to do just very briefly is look at this series of images, and my hope is that one of them, or two or three of them, maybe, will speak to you. That you'll say, "Yeah, that names how I feel". And when that happens, you're getting ready for the Savior. So here's the first one: "Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways"? Well, that's an ancient image, isn't it, is the path. To be on the straight path, to walk aright, to know where you're going. Therefore, sin is a wandering off that path. It's getting lost. Think now of the beginning of Dante's "Divine Comedy": "I woke to find myself alone and lost in a dark wood, having wandered from the straight path".

Now, fellow sinners, listen to me. We all know what this is like: that the path that we know we should walk, somehow we've lost track of it. We're in a dark wood, and we don't know anymore where we're going. This probably happens less today because of GPS systems. I know it happens less because of that. But I'm old enough to remember in my early years of driving, so, long before there were GPS systems, and we relied on maps or someone's written directions, that you'd find yourself lost. You're going along, the car's working fine, and you're moving along, but you suddenly realize, "I don't know where I'm going". Or, "I don't even know how to correct this problem".

Again, probably older people remember that feeling, but there's something uniquely sinking about it, isn't there? I mean, now you probably just program your GPS and say, "Well, wherever I am, it'll get me out". But years ago, I remember being in those situations of "I'm lost, and I don't know how to fix the problem". Gosh, I remember as a kid, I was first learning how to drive, and I was maybe seventeen or so, and I was in Chicago. And I was from the suburbs of Chicago, so I didn't know the city that well. And at one point I was driving, looking for, I think, an expressway entrance, and I just didn't know. I didn't know where it was. Eventually I got home somehow. But enter into that feeling.

That's my point. That's I think Isaiah's point. Enter into that feeling that I've wandered from the path that leads me to God, and I don't know how to get back on it. When you enter into that space, you start longing for a Savior. The Bible often uses that imagery of the stars, and that's because ancient peoples navigated by the stars. We don't anymore, but they did. They relied on the stars. And if you lost contact with them, that was a "disaster", and that word literally means the falling of the stars. Right? I don't know where I'm going. Here's a second image from Isaiah: "Why do you let us... harden our hearts so that we fear you not"?

The heart, the heart, Bible loves that image. Doesn't mean the physical organ so much here, but the core, that's the Latin word, "cor," for heart, the core of your person; the center, right? The deepest ground of who you are, that's the heart. What's the problem is a hard heart. Now, why? Because God is about the business of shaping our hearts so that we become his disciples and his children and his followers. God wants to shape the core of us so that we can be the people he wants us to be. When St. Paul says, ecstatically, "It's no longer I who live. It's Christ who lives in me". Well, that's someone who has a soft heart. You see what I mean? Soft so that God can shape it. Hardness of heart means my heart's become like brittle clay. And so when God tries to shape it, the heart shatters.

Now, I'm taking that image from St. Irenaeus, one of my spiritual heroes. It's good, isn't it? The hard heart, it's brittle. And so when God applies his saving pressure, if you want, the heart shatters. What God desires is a supple heart, a heart that is ready to be shaped. This Advent, reflect on that experience of hardness of heart. Are you resistant to what God wants you to do and wants you to be? If the heart is hard, and it is in all of us sinners, well, I mean, I can't soften it through my own efforts. What do I need? I need grace. I need the incoming of that sacred rain that will soften the brittle heart, "O come, O come, Emmanuel, and soften my heart that God might shape it".

That's a good thing to pray for during Advent. Here's a third image from Isaiah: "Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful". My generation was brought up with a sort of antipathy, a hostility, to the idea of God's anger. We never wanted to imagine God as angry. That was old fashioned spirituality. Oh, but friends, let me tell you: you can't avoid the anger of God in the Bible. I mean, it's on practically every other page of the Bible, is some reference to God's anger. We can't just pretend that's not there. Now, as I've said to you before, it doesn't mean that God's fallen into some negative emotional state.

Don't think of it as the way we become angry. It's a metaphor to express God's passion to set things right. That's God's anger: his passion to set things right. What we sinners properly feel is the anger of God, therefore, because we know we're on the wrong path. We know our hearts have been hardened. We know we're not the people God wants us to be. And so when we experience God, we experience him as angry with us. Again, don't emotionalize the language and turn God into a dysfunctional father. I don't mean that. But we feel this alienation from God. May I suggest: that's a good thing in a way, see, for us sinners. The bad state of affairs is when we dull our sensitivity; we're not even aware of God's anger with us, our alienation from God.

No, no. Advent's a great time to get in touch with the fact that we're not the people God wants us to be, and that he's got a passion to set things right in us. "I'm Okay and You're Okay". That was that famous book from when I was a kid. Stupid. Stupidest title, stupidest idea spiritually, ever. It's completely repugnant to the biblical imagination. "I'm Okay and You're Okay". Then who needs a Savior? Who needs God, finally, if I'm okay and you're okay? No, no. Things are off-kilter with us. And we experience God as angry, as desirous of setting things right. Move into that space, fellow sinners, and you're getting yourself ready for the coming of the Savior.

Now, here's another one, again from Isaiah 63: "All our good deeds are like polluted rags; we have all withered like leaves ... our guilt carries us away like the wind". Each one of those is powerful, isn't it? Each one. "All our good deeds are like polluted rags". Now, I'm not subscribing here, and neither is Isaiah, to a sort of total depravity view. Like, "I'm just, there's nothing good in me at all". What's being communicated here, though, is everything in us, to some degree, is tainted by sin. That's true. Even the best things we do, even the best things we accomplish, are tainted to some degree by sin. I can't rest on those, as though, "Oh, I'm doing great because I accomplish some good things, or occasionally I'm an upright person".

Well, that's not enough! You know that wonderful Flannery O'Connor short story called "Revelation," which is all about breaking through the carapace of self-righteousness? At the end of that marvelous story, there's a mystical vision of the virtuous taking up the end of this great procession to heaven, and then the wonderful line, "They saw that even their virtues were being burned away". That's the point I think Isaiah's making is, "Look, even our virtues, even the best in us, is tainted by sin". "We have all withered like leaves". Just hang on to that image. Not a leaf that's flourishing at the height of the summer, but a dead, withered leaf that's just about to be blown away. Lifeless. That's what it's like to be cut off from God is I become lifeless. I wither up. My faculties are not what they're supposed to be. "Our guilt carries us away like the wind".

Isn't it true, again, fellow sinners? We all know what that feels like, when I know my guilt, and it's made me lifeless. "O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel". Can you identify with any of these images? I can. Trust me, I can. Good. Good. That's a great way to prepare now for the coming of the Savior. And I'll end with this, the last image from our reading. It's kind of a coda: "Yet, O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay... you the potter: we are all the work of your hands". There's the image again of the supple clay. If we allow ourselves now to be shaped by God, we can become the people he wants us to be. Get in touch with the hardness of your heart. Be open to the grace that will come at Christmas, that God now can shape your heart and shape your life to be what he wants it to be. And God bless you.
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