FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT – YEAR C
November 29, 2015
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Rev.Dcn. David Justin Lynch
Jeremiah 33:14-16 Psalm 25:4-5;8-10;14
I Thessalonians 3:12-4:2 Luke 21:25-28;34-36
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
Happy New Year! No, I am not bestowing on you an early wish for a happy two thousand sixteen. I’m wishing you a happy Church New Year. Today is the First Sunday in Advent. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin verb “advenire,” which means \”to come toward, to draw near, to approach.\” During Advent, we remember and celebrate God\’s drawing near to us in Jesus Christ. The beginning of another Church year commences with our anticipation of the coming of Jesus as we prepare to celebrate His incarnation. Beginning the Church year with the First Sunday in Advent is countercultural. It is out of sync with every other time structure in our lives: the academic semester, the fiscal year, the twelve-month calendar, and the cycle of the sports seasons. It reminds us that to be a Christian sometimes requires that we not go along with what’s around us. This should not surprise Christians, as Jesus was not in sync with the world as He knew it.
There are, however, two things the four-week long Advent season is not. The Advent Season is not the Christmas Season, and Advent is not a penitential season. Advent is uniquely Advent.
The secular world does not see Advent and Christmas as two different and separate seasons. Merchants would have us celebrate the so-called “Christmas Season” beginning at midnight on the day after Thanksgiving, known as “Black Friday” on which shoppers stampede into malls and department stores searching for the so-called “good deals”, activity the storeowners hope continue for at least the next thirty or so days. In the secular mind, Advent does not exist. But Christians celebrate Advent during Advent, and Christmas at Christmas. So you won’t hear Christmas carols here at Saint Cecilia’s until Christmas Eve. And the tree to my left is an Advent Tree…note that it is predominately blue, the color of Advent. Over the next four weeks, you will hear and sing only the glorious music of Advent, a time the Church invites us to watchful anticipation, making our souls ready to receive Jesus, feeling joyful about His coming, and expecting a guest in our hearts who is more than we can ask or imagine.
And, Advent is not a penitential season. We’ll save that for Lent. That is why we use blue here instead of purple as many churches do, to maintain the significance of Advent, in contrast to Lent, when we will use purple. Penitence focuses on the past, as we sorrow for our sins and seek forgiveness for what we may have done wrong. Advent, however, focuses on the future rather than the past. Advent is a season of expectant delight. Advent is a time to proclaim the good news of the incarnation and a time meditate on our relationship to Jesus going forward in the coming church year.
Today’s Gospel warns us to be vigilant, always ready to be receive Jesus. We hear about signs in the sun, moon and stars, nations in dismay, the roaring of the sea and the waves, people dying of fright, and the Son of Man appearing in the clouds with power and great glory! Sounds terrifying, doesn’t it? We have to be ready, as theoretically this could occur at any time.
Why? Time and history culminate in Jesus, but we don’t know when that will occur. Time is a part of God’s plan. By time, I don’t mean only the seconds, hours and minutes that we count, but the sequence of events. Chronologically, Christians live in the interval between the first and second comings of Jesus. For Christians, the only meaning of time is in Jesus.
Those who read the Bible literally expend a great deal of time and energy preparing for a Second Coming of Jesus at an unknown time in the future, and think Christians always need to be ready for that. Historically, today’s Gospel lesson has been interpreted to foretell a Second Coming of Jesus at the end of time amidst world-wide disturbances or cosmic signs like a natural disaster.
But there is another way of looking at it. Advent symbolizes for the Church, as the People of God, awaiting the return of Jesus to consummate his eternal kingdom. Today’s Church is like Israel in exile, waiting and hoping in prayerful expectation for the coming of the Messiah. In the same way, the Church, during Advent, looks Christ’s coming looking forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when He returns for His people. But whether Jesus will literally come down out of the clouds one day is not important. What isimportant is the meaning behind that idea, not an actual, physical event. Think of the Second Coming as a time when the things that Jesus taught us become a part of who we are, replacing the present status quo ante, which is quite the opposite of the Kingdom of God as presented by Jesus. The ultimate reign of God will shake the foundations of the globe and lead to the emergence of a new world. Think of the Second Coming as a time when love will replace fear. Think of the Second Coming as a time when reconciliation will replace retaliation. Think of the Second Coming as a time when, as foretold by Our Lady in the Song of Mary, the mighty will be cast down from their thrones and the least among us exalted. Think of the Second Coming as a time when the hungry people will be fed and the wealthy will go hungry. Again, that’s in the Song of Mary. Think of the Second Coming of Jesus as a time when the world will be turned upside down, the coming of the new order foretold by Jesus during His earthly ministry, where God’s justice will reign for ever and ever.
When we think about justice, we tend to think about punishing someone or otherwise getting even. In the popular mind, people think justice is sending a criminal to jail. God, however, takes a different view. God’s justice builds people up, rather than destroy them. God’s justice is one that restores the goodness in people and reconciles people to each other. God’s idea of a just society is one where compassion is exalted over law for law’s sake, where the care of human persons comes before following rules, where justice equals mercy. For Jesus, doing justice involves not only healing people who are hurting, but also confronting those who have been doing the hurting. Jesus did not go along with the prevailing program, and understandably, that got the powers-that-be mad at Him, and that, of course, led to His crucifixion.
The language in the Gospel about the Second Coming of Jesus in the context of Advent is meant to impress upon us the supreme importance of the celebrating the arrival of Jesus, God incarnate, at Christmas, as a momentous event. We herald Jesus, supposedly a lineal descendant of the revered King David, as the new paradigm whom we expect to make all things right, to establish a just and secure society. In Jesus, we hope for that in believing Jesus came to us in Bethlehem to renew the world in love and justice. Imagine a world where we live without fear of terrorists, without fear of proliferating nuclear weapons, without fear of horrific climate change, without fear of a crash of the world economy, and a world free of the greed that fills our world so pervasively. The Season of Advent is meant to anticipate all that. Advent is about praying for the coming of the Kingdom of God.
The coming of Jesus again in power and glory to establish God’s justice will set us on a path for a new relationship with God, where we no longer see God as a harsh and uncompromising judge, but instead as a loving Father. That kind of a relationship with God brings new relationships with those in our personal lives abounding in love rather than wallowing in fear. The coming of Jesus means the love and righteousness for which humankind longs will finally come to pass. In the community called the Church, we pray that love and righteousness may not only abound, but continue to make us perfect in holiness until the final coming of Christ.
Getting ready for the coming of Jesus means strengthening our hearts to abound in love for one another. That means we must allow Jesus to come to us in every part of our life, here at Mass, at work, and home, or when we socialize with our friends. Growing in love emphasizes its dynamic aspect: to grow in love for God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; to grow in love for Mary and for the saints, one’s family, relatives, friends, strangers, the needy, the sick, and sinners of every kind. Remember that God’s compassion is what makes God holy, and as the Holy One in the midst of humanity, Jesus brings a message of compassion and healing, not condemnation and punishment. The purpose of Advent is to prepare our hearts to receive that message. As we prepare for the Incarnation, or in ordinary words, while we get ready of Christmas, let us be alert for times to let Jesus come into our lives in doing such simple things as buying some food for a hungry person, holding a door for someone who has trouble walking, and keeping a lonely person company. It also means being alert for the forces of evil which would rather we not do those things. Our alertness must encompass a total spiritual awareness of who and where we are, what is going on around us, and discerning where Jesus is in present as we go about our business. Growing in love is what will best prepare us to receive Jesus and to love Jesus. The love Jesus gives us is what excites us about the coming of Jesus. AMEN.