First Sunday in Advent – Year B
December 03, 2017 10:30 AM
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community, Palm Springs CA
Rev. David Justin Lynch
Isaiah 63:16B-17;64:2-7 Psalm 80:2-3;15-16;18-19
I Corinthians 1:3-9 Mark 13:33-37
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
In the secular world, Advent invites us to decorate our homes and buy gifts. There is nothing wrong with that, but for Christians, Advent is different. We will be preparing ourselves to be ready for God to permeate our entire lives. We need to be sure we have enough oil in our lamps to be ready to enlighten the lives of others, and to care for the least among us.
For the church, Advent is not part of the Christmas season as it is in the secular world. Advent, for the church, is not Christmas shopping and holiday parties. That is why we do not decorate the church for Christmas until Advent ends, and it is why we absolutely do not sing Christmas carols during Advent. Advent is its own season, not to be confused with Christmas, and not to be confused with Lent—that is an important reason why we wear blue. Advent is a season of hope and anticipatory joy, as the Church begins another year, throughout which we will once again proclaim the Kingdom of God. Advent is the preparation of our souls for that proclamation.
In Advent, the Church has traditionally anticipated two comings of Jesus. On Christmas Day, Jesus comes to us in great humility, born in a stable. It also anticipates His Second Coming in power and glory. Those who meet Jesus with Joy at Christmas should have no fear of meeting the glorified Jesus, crowned as king of kings and lord of lords, which we celebrated last Sunday. That is because Jesus is calling us at this time of year to be alert to a deeper reality inside ourselves, and not allow the problems of daily life to put us into a spiritual sleep that so that we are distracted from the watchfulness Jesus demands.
Those whose professional obligation is to keep watch for what it is unexpected seldom get much attention. For the most part, they do their jobs anonymously at night in office buildings, industrial plants, and sometimes, even churches, while those who occupy them are away sleeping, who, like in today’s Gospel, are analogous to the master who went on a journey, and left others in charge, to watch out for events that are foreseeable, but not predictable at a time certain. Modernly, they are called security guards, whose most important duty is to be alert, to keep awake, to watch, as the eyes and ears of the people who hired them, and to act when something happens, just as was expected of the servants in today’s Gospel.
Once in a great while, security guards who keep awake while night is flying become prominent actors in significant events. In May 1972, Republican political operatives broke into the offices of the Democratic Party at the Watergate office building in Washington DC. They stole documents and bugged phones. The wiretaps failed to work properly, however, so on June 17, five men returned to the Watergate building to install new microphones. As those very evil men were preparing to break into the office to do their dirty deed, a security guard noticed someone had taped over several of the building’s door locks. The guard called the police, who arrived just in time to catch those undesirables red-handed. But for that security guard, whose name was Frank Wills, these criminals would never have been caught, and the political history of the United States would be much different. But for Frank Wills, Nixon would have remained President for a full eight years. Frank Wills is perhaps the Patron Saint of Security Guards!
Frank Wills was just doing his job – to be watchful for burglary, which was foreseeable, but the time at which it would occur was unexpected. That’s what Jesus asks us to do in today’s Gospel. Jesus tells us that His return among us is certain, but even Jesus doesn’t know the day or the hour. Therefore, watch, be ready.
However, the coming of Jesus among us in glory is an event far more important that the Watergate Burglary. Many early Christians believed that Jesus was certain to reappear on earth. The word theologians use to describe that, is “parousia,” a Greek word meaning “presence” or “arrival.” This so-called Second Coming has often been called, “The Day of the Lord,” an event which in ancient times was associated with terrifying scenes, terrible fears, horrible paralyzing ghosts, and bewildering apocalyptic visions. The more rational among us point out that there is no objective evidence to support a physical reappearance of Jesus, yet some Christians have often attempted to predict the exact time, place and manner of the Second Coming. How many times have you heard on television, or read in a newspaper, that the world will end on a particular day? These people are known as “millennialists.” Their message is you’d better get your act together, because Judgment Day is arriving soon!
While we may regard millennialists as crazy kooks, they are not altogether outside mainstream Christian doctrine. Every Sunday we say, or sometimes sing, the Nicene Creed, which reads, in relevant part, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” In the Eucharistic Prayer, we acclaim the Body and Blood of Jesus with some variation of, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”
The big difference, however, between us and millennialists, is that we are not so presumptuous to know exactly when, where or how Jesus will return. As with everything else that relates to God, we let those things remain a mystery. God has told us nothing about when, how, and where the Second Coming will occur. God always deeply disappoints those who seek certainty.
The people of Israel described in today’s first reading were wandering in great uncertainty about their future. They had just returned to their homeland after years of exile in Babylon. wandering away from God, yet at the same time, longing for God. Like it was for them, our longing for God motivates us to stay spiritually awake and ready for God. The people of Israel, and the audience Jesus was addressing have something in common: they were awaiting divine intervention to fix adversity. The people of Israel were lamenting their situation and looking for God to open the heavens and drop down, while the disciples of Jesus addressed in today’s Gospel were told to be ready for Jesus to come back at any moment.
The context of the Gospel was that Jesus had entered Jerusalem for the final drama of His life. His followers were uncertain what would happen to Him and to them. They sought words of reassurance. Jesus told them there would be chaos in the short term, but at His Second Coming, everything would be made right, and to be ready for that. Keep in mind that the Gospel of Mark, which is the earliest of all the Gospels was prepared in about the year 65, over thirty years after Jesus died. It was a time of great turmoil in Palestine, when the zealots among the Jewish people got sick and tired of the Roman government and rebelled against it, ultimately resulting in the near total destruction of the Temple and most of Jerusalem. Both Christians and Jews sought help from above on an immediate basis, aspirations the synoptic gospel writers articulated. From their writings, we can deduce they felt they were under siege and definitely needed help.
Those Christians and Jews lived in troubled times just like we do, where it seems like God was taken leave. The events of today’s world become more depressing all the time, with threats of war in Asia, the deteriorating state of race relations, and the growing spread of the cancer of poverty everywhere. Like the people described in the first reading, we too are wandering around in uncertainty, all the while longing for God.
Just like it was for the disciples during the last week of his life and the audience for the Gospel of Mark, Advent is our time of longing for Jesus to come back to us. Advent is our longing for the divine intervention of Jesus to come to us and make things right. As an ordinary human person just like you, I, too would like to see direct divine intervention, not only for problems that are personal to me, but to deal with the pervasive injustice in the world around me. However, I don’t see the Second Coming of Jesus as the supernatural event the millennialists imagine. The second coming of Jesus for which I long will be the completion of the work he began when He was born. The incarnation Jesus was but the beginning of the coming of the Kingdom of God. The Second Coming will be the total victory of that Kingdom, that Day of the Lord when all things will be made new, all things made right.
In the Our Father, the prayer that we sing or say at every Mass and at other times, we pray, “Thy Kingdom Come.” When the Kingdom of God has fully come, it will replace what we have now, where the richest 1% hold about 38% of all private wealth in the United States, while the bottom 90% held 73% of all debt. According to The New York Times, the richest one percent in the United States now own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. Those one-percenters have reduced life to the pursuit of wealth and power for themselves. The rest of us are a mere convenience for the 1%, a mere means to their ends. Jesus is not part of that scenario. The only hope the 1% have for the future is to maintain themselves in power. Jesus does not matter to them at all. But for us, the Incarnation proclaims that Jesus does indeed matter, that Jesus came to make a difference, to establish a new order.
The coming of the Kingdom of God will be a time of reversal, when the mighty will be put down from their seat, when the humble and meek will be exalted, when the hungry will be filled with good things, and the rich sent empty away, and where the greatest among us will be those who serve, rather than those who use their power to dominate others.
Human hope for the 99% must focus on Jesus to get the substantive change necessary to complete the establishment of the Kingdom of God. But that is something that cannot wait for the hereafter. People are starving now. People are homeless now. People need healthcare now. Human hope is for a God with us in this world, not just in the next.
The second coming of Jesus, that is, the full manifestation of the Kingdom of God, will speak truth to earthly powers. The mission of the Church is to facilitate that Kingdom, by telling the tyrannical oligarchs of this world, “Enough.” The church is not here to support the powers-that-be, or to support social structures that support huge disparities of wealth, or a belief in the superiority of one race over another, or the subjugation of women, or the triumphalism of any particular ecclesiastical sect. Rather, the Church exists to bring a revolution in how the world does its business in the way people relate to each other. The Church is here to advance the Kingdom of God, a kingdom that is more like the Gospel of Jesus, proclaiming compassion, peace and justice, and less like Ayn Rand, who worshiped private property, the free market, and money in place of God.
Advent introduces the expression of our faith in the possibility of a better world in the coming church year. Advent calls us to become beacons of social justice, icons of love, and examples of peacemakers. The message of Advent is to be constantly watching for opportunities to make that happen. Here at Saint Cecilia’s, we are not only doing sacramental justice for those rejected at other churches, but developing relationships with organizations outside the parish whose mission is to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and house the homeless. In that regard, I invite all of you to bring canned goods, clothing, and toiletries every week. I also invite you to be watchful for other opportunities to serve those beyond the church walls.
In the coming weeks, we will hear stories of John the Baptist calling us to repentance, to turn around, to go a different direction. In the part of Chapter thirteen of Mark that precedes today’s Gospel, Jesus uses apocalyptic language to describe the physical destruction of the present order. The victory and fulfillment of the Kingdom of God starts with Jesus pushing us off our present, comfortable tracks to be fully open to the His message. While the present age is one of turmoil, injustice and suffering at the hands of the 1%, we anticipate the coming of Jesus, at Christmas as a human baby, and eventually as king of the universe, to give us hope that life will not always be as it is now.
Although the reign of Jesus is already present in the Church, it will not be complete until His return, because the reign of Jesus is still under attack by evil powers. Advent gives us hope that those powers will be fully defeated, and that we will see a new heaven and a new earth. Let us give hope by praying throughout Advent, “Maranatha! Come, Jesus, Come.” AMEN.