This Advent, What Are You Looking At? What Are You Waiting For?

What are you hoping for? Are they the things you want your children to hope for?

Carl Bloch (1834-1890), “The Baptism of Christ”
Carl Bloch (1834-1890), “The Baptism of Christ” (photo: Public Domain)

While holding my 10-month-old in church this past week, my 7-year-old wanted to direct the baby’s attention to the Advent decorations overhead. So the 7-year-old pointed upward. The 10-month-old only reached out to hold the pointed hand.

A few minutes later, I found myself looking up at the ceiling and wondering about some of the forces involved in holding up that kind of roof (I am a physics teacher, after all). When I looked back down, I found that my 10-month-old was looking up at the decorations hanging from the ceiling. When she looked back at me, I looked up again. Then, she looked up. The pattern worked for the rest of the Mass.

If you walk into a crowded room and find everyone looking out the window, you will wonder what they all are looking at. I have seen this done as a prank, where a group stands together and all look in the same direction. As passersby see them, they look intently to see what they are looking at. 

Looking is more powerful than pointing.

You and I can point to Jesus all we want, but nothing will make others look at Jesus as much as when we look at him ourselves. When our attention is absorbed by Christ, others will naturally follow suit. This is the secret of the saints. Nothing is more attractive than holiness, not even eloquent and inspiring preaching. C.S. Lewis once said that if only 10% of the world were truly holy, the rest of the world would be converted and happy within a year’s time.

Focusing our attention on Jesus, though, is not primarily to be used as a utilitarian end for saving souls. If that is our main motivation, then we are not really looking at Jesus anyway. To look at Jesus as we ought is to look at him for his own sake, simply out of love for Jesus.

Each season of the Church’s liturgical year directs our attention to Jesus in a different way. This season of Advent particularly emphasizes this point about the direction of our gaze. In the midst of the good things and the hard things in life, where do we place our hope? Where will our help come from (Psalm 121:1)? What is it that we think will save us?

St. John the Baptist shows us the way. He looks and points to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).

“When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectation of the Messiah. … By celebrating the precursor’s [John the Baptist’s] birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’” (CCC 524)

So, what are we looking at? What are we hoping for? What are we waiting for? Are those the things that we want our children to look at, hope for, and look for? Are they things that are worthy of our and their attention? What is the cry of our heart? 

Come, Lord Jesus.

In Advent, we await the coming of Jesus at Christmastime.

What Is Advent Anyway?

EXPLAINER: Advent is a season in the Church’s life intended to renew the experience of waiting and longing for the Messiah.