One of the biggest blessings of this third edition of the Roman Missal, for me, has been proclaiming the new proper orations. In particular, the prayer the priest prays at the end of the Introductory Rites (called the Collect) has really caught my attention for the last two weeks.
Both of these Collects give us the same image for Advent: the image of a run. On the first Sunday of Advent, we prayed this: “Grant Your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet Your Christ.” What a perfect match that is with this week’s oration: “Almighty and merciful God, may no earthly undertaking hinder those who set out in haste to meet Your Son.” Maybe it’s just because I’m a runner, but these prayers seem so appropriate for the season of Advent.
You don’t have to be a fitness guru to appreciate the imagery, though. If you’ve ever gone for a run at all, you know that it’s not uncommon to start out strong but gradually lose steam. Or, once you get going, something throws you off, like a pebble that works its way into your shoe or a piece of uneven sidewalk that trips you. There are plenty of things that could easily derail our Advent preparations, but we have to remain steadfast if we’re going to reach the finish line.
The prophet Isaiah exhorts us: “Make straight . . . a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low.” That’s every runner’s dream! I ran the Philadelphia Marathon last year, and—I assure you—I wouldn’t have minded if someone had “made low” the hills throughout those 26.2 miles! John the Baptist’s vision is no different from Isaiah’s image when he says, “Prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight His paths!” A way prepared for the Lord has no pebbles or pavement to prevent us from receiving God’s grace.
Advent (and, really, the whole Christian life) is a process of removing obstacles to grace so that we can receive God’s blessings. What are the things—the “earthly undertakings”—that somehow “hinder” us from continuing the run toward Christ that we began last week? Are we still setting out in haste to meet Him, or have we allowed our Advent sprint to become a jog or a walk or a crawl?
It’s not out of the ordinary to begin running and then lose steam along the way. But Advent is no ordinary run. At the end of the Philly marathon, I got a pretzel, a T-shirt, and a high-five from Mayor Nutter. At the end of our Advent run is Jesus Christ, Himself.
Let’s keep running toward Him with the same energy we set out with last week. In the words of the first Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 9:24): “Run so as to win!”