I want to make three points in this homily.
First, I want to explain what Advent is really about –
it’s not exactly what you may think.
We often say Advent is about preparing for Christmas,
but that’s not exactly right.
After all, what do the readings we just heard
have to do with Christmas? It’s hard to see, isn’t it?
That’s because what Advent is primarily about
is preparing for eternity;
and only about Christmas, to the extent that Christmas, too,
is also about eternity.
So look again at the readings –
doesn’t that explanation make a better fit?
These are about eternity!
The second thing I want to call to your attention
has to do with the details of that first reading.
This is such a powerful passage, it is deeply moving:
God’s people are crying out to heaven for God’s grace:
“Why do you let us wander, O LORD…
why do you let us “harden our hearts”?
They are asking for the help of God’s grace, to be converted!
It’s such a powerful prayer, isn’t it what so many of us pray?
This prayer, this prophecy by Isaiah, do you know how it is fulfilled?
In the sacraments of the Church.
Beginning in baptism, the sacraments open us up
to all the graces we need to be saved,
beginning with the grace of conversion.
But, as much as we’d like it so, this is not a one-and-done process.
Nevertheless, the desire we want to have in us, to grow in us –
the desire for what God wants –
that comes from the Holy Spirit,
and it comes through living the sacramental life.
So, I’m going to make a pitch I’ve made before:
This Advent, decide you want to begin a new habit,
of coming regularly – if not frequently – to confession.
Sometimes people will object,
“but I don’t know what to say in confession!”
All I can say is, unless you are treating everyone around you just right –
then I’m guessing there’s plenty to say.
Start there, with how you get along with your family, your spouse,
your kids, your coworkers.
There will be extra opportunities during Advent,
on top of the six hours we regularly have of confessions.
Here’s the final point to make:
God wants to forgive us! God wants to forgive us!
Why do I make that point so strongly?
Because over and over I hear people express deep fear,
that maybe I didn’t confess my sins exactly right,
or maybe I didn’t remember it exactly right,
maybe I need to do it all over again. And again. And again!
And I want to ask: Do you think God is setting you up to fail?
Do you imagine God is playing tricks on you,
as if we were all in some cosmic game show –
and if you or I answer wrong, whoops! Oh, too bad!?
Stop and think about who you really think God is.
And so I repeat: God wants to forgive us. He wants to help us.