- The Washington Times - Monday, December 2, 2002

Excerpts from a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. J. William Hines at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Landover Hills.
We begin the first Sunday of Advent, and the new liturgical year, by recalling the mysteries of our faith and our holy religion. It's a serious beginning, and requires a certain amount of preparation.
We are preparing for the birth of Jesus, the Christ. We should be prepared every bit as much as when we start a new job, move into a new home or have a new child. We don't let such events just happen. We prepare, as we would do in any situation where we want to be successful.
Society is getting ready for this celebration of Christmas, and we should be grateful for that. But for us, the preparation is to meet Christ, an experience we want to have at a deep level. You and I are challenged in our faith by the celebration of our society. In all the activity, we truly want to know God's love for us through the birth of the Savior. This can happen with a heart prepared.
From our text today in Mark, we learn to keep watch as the Advent season begins. This is not a watchfulness in fear or anxiety. Today we hear much about looking out and watching for terrorists. But our watching for God is of a very different kind. We want to be alert and have all our senses open, focused on God. We are eager to be surprised by the coming of Christ.
One of our sisters has taken the word "watch" and used its letters as a way to help us plan for this holy season. "W" is for wait. "A" is for attune. "T" for target. "C" is for commit and "H" for hope.
We wait in this season to learn more about our spiritual gifts. As we approach the birth of Christ, let us ask how we can expand and use these gifts. This is part of being alert. Waiting requires mental alertness so we will be able to recognize Christ. When Christ returns in power and glory, will he be recognized, and will you and I, the baptized, know that time? Advent tells us to prepare for all of this.
In our reading from Isaiah today we have that wonderful image of God fashioning us as if we are clay. By being shaped by God, we attune ourselves to His will. He fashions us in body and soul and has a plan for each one of us. What does God want you to be?
"T" stands for target, and during Advent many things will distract us from our preparation. So we have to target some of those things, push them aside and focus on what is most important. We should try to overcome them to truly hear the word of God in this season. We are so busy, often doing nothing in the long run. We have our addictions to television, to computers, and to sports. Whatever it is that makes us so busy that we are avoiding the voice of God, let's target it this Advent. Take time out to dwell on the things of God, to help someone, to bring a friend to church.
Then, as the letter "C" suggests, we should commit. It takes a commitment to be on watch for the arrival of Christ. Part of that commitment is again to find time to appreciate what our baptism means, and to give praise for what we have.
The last letter in our word is "H," which stands for hope. Advent is certainly a season of expectation and waiting in hope, a time to renew ourselves and rekindle our belief. At every Mass following the Lord's Prayer, we read these words, "As we wait in joyful hope for the second coming of our Savior Jesus the Christ." Let us wait in joyful hope. That is what we do as God's people and as a church. Jesus will return in glory. There will finally be peace on earth. There will be mercy and justice for every person. There will be no more war. Our joyful hope tells us this.
So, my brothers and sisters, as we begin Advent season, as we watch for our God, let us wait for our spiritual gifts, be attuned to the Lord, target what distracts us, commit our hearts and have hope in our God who is with us, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Next week: a sermon at a Virginia congregation

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