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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - An Advent Challenge

Robert Barron - An Advent Challenge

Robert Barron - An Advent Challenge
TOPICS: Advent

Peace be with you, and Happy New Year's Day. We come today to the beginning of the liturgical year, the First Sunday of Advent. What is it about Advent? I've always loved it. To me, it's a very spiritually powerful season. And it might be because there's sort of a permanent Advent quality to the Christian life. Adventus, the "coming" of the Lord. He came in time, it's true, and he's coming into our hearts now, but we're also longing for his coming at the end of time. That means all of Christian history, now over 2000 years, is going to go on who knows how much longer. There's always a vigil quality to it. We're waiting. We're watching. There's something unfulfilled about this life. We want something we don't fully have.

And I think the Advent season calls all this to mind. Brings all this to consciousness. And these readings for the First Sunday of Advent, they are so powerful, helping us to get ourselves focused spiritually. The image now from reading number 1, taken from the Prophet Isaiah. Can I recommend everybody take out your Bibles? Isaiah, chapter 2. And you find this beautiful image, which has given rise to so much reflection, and so much artistic expression and spiritual articulation over the centuries. It has to do with a mountain. Listen. "In days to come, the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest mountain".

Isaiah was from Jerusalem, from Judea. He knew very well that city on the top of Mount Zion. But more importantly, the city where the temple of the Lord was situated. The place where Israel gave God right praise. The place that was seen as practically, literally, the dwelling place of God on earth. "In days to come", that means at the culmination of all things, this will be the highest mountain. Now, Isaiah knew perfectly well this is not true in a literal sense, that Zion was clearly the highest mountain of the world. But he means it here spiritually. At the fulfillment of all time, here's his point, the praise of God will be the supreme value. It will be raised above all the other mountains that might compete with it.

So here's our first Advent challenge we're preparing for the coming of the Lord. What's of highest value to you? What's the highest mountain? Now, everyone's got it. We might pretend otherwise in our kind of secularized age, but it's just not true. For every person, there's some mountain that's highest. There's some place where you are offering worship. It might be your country. It might be your culture. It might be your family. It might be a pop star. Who knows? Something or somebody is of highest value, and you spend your time ordering your life to that good.

Now, mind you, everything I've mentioned, they're all good. Nothing really wrong with them in themselves. Countries, and cultures, and even pop stars. But they're not meant to be worshiped. They're not meant to be the highest mountain. In the days to come, that's what we're waiting for, with the adventus of the Lord. The praise of God will be the highest mountain.

So there's our challenge for Advent, everybody, and maybe can I suggest to you, for these four weeks before Christmas, keep that image of Isaiah's mountain in your mind. Where do you worship? What's of highest value to you? I mentioned before, Christ wants to be the Lord of your life. Not a minor figure in your life. Not a peripheral figure. Not one inspiring person among many. He wants to be the dominus, the "Lord" of your life. Is praise of him the highest mountain? What's competing with him? Good question to ask in these weeks of Advent. Now, listen as Isaiah goes on. "All nations shall stream toward it. Many people shall come and say, 'Come, let us climb the Lord's mountain to the house of the God of Jacob.'"

Now, this is an image that Isaiah would have known directly and personally, the tribes of Israel coming up to Mount Zion for the various feasts of the Jewish year. So the Jews from all over Israel, but also from even around the wider world, would come to Jerusalem to offer praise. Read some of the Psalms, and there are literally Psalms about going up to Zion. They probably were songs that accompanied the people as they made their way up Mount Zion. "In days to come", that means that the culmination of all things, he envisions not just the people of Israel but all the nations of the world coming together in the common praise of God. Beautiful, beautiful image. But let me suggest, read it in kind of a personal and spiritual way.

When God is worshiped, when Mount Zion is the highest mountain, what happens? All the tribes within you stream together to that point. So I'm using this external reality as a symbol of an internal reality. Think of all the tribes going up as your mind, your will, your private life, your public life, your friendships, your passions, your energies, all the things that make up your life, all of them now streaming together toward the one point of right praise. You see, when we give glory to God in the highest, then a sort of harmony begins to obtain within our own souls.

Do you ever wonder now, fellow sinners, because we all fall into this, all of us sinners, why do we feel so much tension within ourselves? Why is there so much interior conflict? Because I haven't found the place of right praise. As long as I'm worshiping something other than the true God, then all the forces within me are going to be cacophonous, at odds with each other. They won't go streaming together to the one place. Now listen with this point in mind as Isaiah goes on. "He shall judge between the nations and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. One nation shall not raise the sword against another".

I've spoken to you before about nonviolence, how Jesus picks up this theme so powerfully in the Sermon on the Mount. Yes, indeed, this is about the culmination of the age, when all the peoples of the world come together in the praise of the true God. It'll be an end to war, because conflicts among the nations come ultimately from forms of bad praise. If your country, your culture, your project, your prerogatives are of highest value, and then someone else is also worshiping on a false mountain, we will come into conflict.

So at the culmination of the age, there will be peace among the nations of the world. That's what Isaiah envisions. But can I state with our metaphor, think of those powers within you. Mind, will, energies, passions, friendships, all that. What happens in us when God is not being given the highest praise? They fight with each other, right? Fellow sinners, am I right? What do we experience on the inside? That our minds are at odds with our wills, right? I know what I'm supposed to do, but I don't do it. Paul says that in Romans 7. "The good that I would do, it's that I do not do. The evil that I would avoid, it's that that I do".

See, that's a riven, divided person speaking. That happens when God is not being given highest praise. Or, "My will says this, but my passions say that. My private life is lived this way. My public life has lived another way. My one friendship leads me down this path. Another friendship leads me down another path". I'm at war with myself, but see, in the days to come, when God is given highest praise, then the swords that are battling within me will be turned into plowshares. And the spears, all the fighting within me, they'll be turned into pruning hooks, into the tools of cultivation.

Concentrate, everybody, during this Advent, on giving God highest praise, making Mount Zion the true pole of your life, and you'll find peace breaking out more and more within you. Okay. When should all this happen? When should we get with this program? Listen now to Paul in our second reading. He's speaking to the little Christian community gathered in Rome. I was in Rome not that long ago, and I always think of this when I go there now. I mean, Rome, the center of Roman Catholicism, and this great institutional place. But back in those days, the Christian community was a little tiny group gathered probably in the Jewish quarter of Rome.

So Paul writes to them, "You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep". That's a great biblical theme, by the way. Old Testament and New. Sleep. Sleep is not good, spiritually. "Awake, O sleeper and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you life". Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, but his disciples can't stay awake. They fall asleep. Sleep is symbolic in the Bible of a lack of spiritual attention. It's a kind of laziness, acedia, sloth.

Karl Barth said that. The sin of our time is not pride. It's sloth. And I think he's been proven right in our time, with all this falling away from the faith, all this indifference to things of religion. The problem is that we've got a culture that's fallen asleep religiously, indifferent to this question of who or what is getting right praise. Content somehow with the riven, divided self. Paul says, "You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep". So everybody, Advent is a time of attention. Wake up. He's coming. Keep vigil. Keep watch. Don't fall asleep. Don't succumb to this bland indifferentism of our culture. No. No.

Now. Now. Wake up. Get your life ordered. Make sure you know what the highest mountain in your life is. And then just to finish this, look in the Gospel. Jesus says, "Therefore, stay awake. You do not know on which day your Lord will come". That's true. In the sense of our own death, we don't know when that will be. So wake up. Wake up. Now. Now is the time. "Yeah. I mean, my life has been kind of out of order for a long time. And I know I'm at war with myself, and I know I worship on the wrong mountain". I know. So wake up. Stop making excuses. Now. Now is the time. And God bless you.
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