Guide Me and Teach Me

1st Sunday of Advent (C)

“Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior” (Ps 25:5). In this Sunday’s psalm, we begin our Advent observance by humbly asking God to teach us. I want to invite you to make this particular verse part of your daily prayer this Advent. While in college, your vocation is that of a student. Your role is to learn, and this requires a degree of humility before your professors and other experts in your fields of study, acknowledging that their knowledge and wisdom exceeds your own. By submitting yourself to their teaching, you stand to gain wisdom and knowledge. But even beyond the corridors and classrooms of college, part of the Christian vocation is to always be a student, humbly submitting yourself to the wisdom of the Divine Teacher.

This Sunday’s gospel begins the way that we always begin Advent. We begin by looking at the end of things. Jesus speaks of that future day when “they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Lk 21:27). This is not a day we should dread, but one we should look forward to, because then our redemption will be at hand (Lk 21:28).

But Jesus warns that the coming of that day will catch many off guard, who have “become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life” (Lk 21:34). Today we distract ourselves from the anxieties of daily life not only with alcohol and drugs, but with smart phones, streaming video, social media, shopping, and a whole host of other distractions. These things may not be bad in themselves, but they can serve to distract us from what is really important. This is why Jesus warns us to “be vigilant at all times” (Lk 21:36).

Our second reading is from St. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. St. Paul prays for their hearts to be strengthened so that they may be ready “at the coming of our Lord Jesus” (1 Thess 3:13). This readiness involves holding fast in their love for one another and remembering the instructions they received from the Apostle.

The word disciple means “student.”  It comes from the Latin word discere or “to learn.” A student was called a discipulus or “learner.” To be a disciple of Jesus means that you are willing to learn from him, and from those he sent into the world to “make disciples (learners) of all nations” (Mt 28:19), the Apostles and their successors in the Church.

God is the source of all Wisdom, and if we wish to be truly wise, we must first admit that we are foolish and then humbly submit ourselves to his teachings. This is what we pray for in this Sunday’s psalm.

Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my savior,
and for you I wait all the day.

We ask God not only to teach us, but to guide us. We want to go where God will lead us. We want to go to heaven! We want rest, peace and happiness — not just in this moment (we can get that with a good meal and a nap), but for all eternity. Only God can get us there. So we ask him to teach and guide us… and then we wait. “For you I wait all the day.” Many of the lessons God has to teach us are best learned through experience, and so we must be patient as we learn, trusting in God’s timing for our lives.

Good and upright is the LORD;
thus he shows sinners the way.
He guides the humble to justice,
and teaches the humble his way.

If we truly want God to guide us and teach us, then we must be humble. God guides the humble to justice. He teaches the humble his way. This is because one must be humble to receive God’s teachings. One must be humble to submit their own will to the will of the Father.

Humility doesn’t mean being down on yourself. It simply means being real with yourself. And the reality is you are not your own personal god. You are not all-knowing. You are not all-wise. You are not all-good. But God is. And so we look to him for guidance. There is so much we do not know. God has something to teach us in every situation, but we have to be humble to recognize these lessons. Humility makes us teachable.

All the paths of the LORD are kindness and constancy
toward those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
The friendship of the LORD is with those who fear him,
and his covenant, for their instruction.

Fear of the Lord is not the same as fear of the boogey-man or fear of spiders. It’s not a phobia. Fear can mean a feeling of dread. But it can also mean a feeling of reverence. This is the kind of fear we mean when we say that we should fear God. We should have an attitude of humble reverence toward him at all times. He is mightier than we are. He is wiser than we are. He is more loving than we are, more just and more merciful. We should be in awe of him; this reverence should lead us not only to listen to his words, but to obey them.

What wisdom is there in learning from God if we don’t put those lessons into action? The paths of the Lord are kindness and constancy, as the Psalm says, but only toward those who “keep his covenant and his decrees” (Ps 25:10).  His covenant is for our instruction — it’s for our benefit, not his! God needs nothing from us. We need everything from him. He shows us the path to life. To be his disciple is to walk that path.

If you are anything like me, you stumble off of that path with embarrassing frequency. We allow the anxieties of daily life to distract us. Jesus knows how easy that is for us to do, which is why he implores us to keep vigilant.  And it’s why the Church reminds us, as we begin this Advent season of preparation, to submit ourselves humbly before God our savior and pray, “Guide me in your truth and teach me.”