FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT HOMILY
Jer 33:14-16, 1 Thes 3:12-4:2, Lk 21:25-28, 34-36 …Preparing for the Coming of One
Who Has Already Come…Jesus Is Coming: Prepare! Eternal Vigilance; Waiting.
“I can’t wait” is an expression parents hear often their young children before Christmas. Yet waiting patiently is a lesson everybody should learn as early as possible, or life can be very disagreeable. But there’s no reason that developing patience need be unpleasant. Every adult as well as every child knows the joys as well as the pangs of waiting. We wait at terminals for loved ones, on street corners to meet waiting. We wait at terminals for loved ones, on street corners to meet friends, and in our homes to entertain. The expectant mother waits for the birth of the baby. In each case. as the time draws near we become more anxious. Will our friend be on time? Will our dinner please our guests? Will the mother safely have a healthy baby?
Today, the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the Church year, we begin a period of waiting –waiting for the Lord’s other comings as were remember with joy his First Coming as the baby of Bethlehem. St Bernard speaks about three comings of Jesus. “In the First Coming which we celebrate at Christmas,” he says, “the says, “The Lord was seen on earth and lived among people. In his last coming, ‘all flesh shall see the salivation of God.’ The other coming (a third kind) is hidden. In it, only the chosen ones see him within themselves, and they receive fulfilment. In brief, his First Coming was in the flesh and in weakness, this intermediary coming is in spirit and in power, the last coming will be in glory and majesty.”
Advent commemorates a joyful kind of waiting, a waiting for Jesus that contains promise, love, preparation, alertness, reflectiveness, prayer, new beginnings and fulfillment. It is a special kind of waiting for the God who has come, does come, and will come. It is a waiting for Jesus the savuour, the Christ, the only son of God, the Lord (Catechism of the catholic Churchnos. 430-5451). It has both a penitential and a hopeful, expectant character.
It is not the first period of waiting period waiting in religion. In the seventh century B.C., Jeremiah the prophet waited The moral life of the southern kingdom of Judah in his time was corrupt, characterized by sham, injustice, and dishonesty. In the midst of all that, today’s reading from the Book of Jeremiah, part of his “Book of Consolation” a joyful part of the book, is full of hope. He promises a new branch of Judaism form the tree of David that won’t ne the same as the old one, and will sprout into new life.
The prophecy is a strange one, iView of the fact that the kings who had followed David were such a sorry lot – most (with two exceptions) being corrupt as well as unjust. David’s dynasty was, to all practical purposes, dead. Nevertheless, this new branch would have many fresh characteristics. It will, for example, be virtuous – specifically through the practice of integrity over the dishonesty of the past. This promised branch finds its fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth.
When Jesus came, some of his disciples’ misunderstandings involved the idea of waiting. When, they wanted to know, was the end of the world coming? And what about Jesus’ Second Coming? Their questions were legitimate. Throughout the Jews’ history, their world had ended frequently. As a people, they’d lived through the Babylonian captivity, when all had seemed finished, and invasion and occupation by many foreign powers.
We all experience the end of our world often enough to understand our final end: when a parent, spouse, or child dies or when a marriage breaks down, or when a job has gone. In all such cases, we say that our world has come tumbling down. With Jesus and his Apostles, he, knowing that their anxiety was misplaced, answered by addressing the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world at the same time. The terror involved in the destruction of Jerusalem would be a lesson about the end of the world.
Jesus, like everyone else, had his ideas of what’s important. (A farmer once ran an ad that said, “Wanted: young woman who owns tractor. Send photo … of tractor.” He had his own ideas of what was important.) Jesus highlighted a few point that he wanted his followers to remember. For one thing, the timing of the end events is unpredictable. For another, the Second Coming will in due time be known to the whole universe. Jesus’s expression “Son of Man” (v. 27) refers to his Second Coming in glory. The fact that he would come in a cloud links this coming with Jesus’ transfiguration and with his ascension, both of which involved clouds. Lastly, Jesus tells us that we must be on the alert: beware, be vigilant, and pray.
The last, to pray, befits the Gospel of St Luke, our special evangelist during this coming Church year, whose Gospel is called, among other things, 3. “Gospel of Prayer”. The only non-Jewish writer of the New Testament, Luke is also the most educated and most literate of the authors of all the books of the Bible.
Luke, the reﬁned Gentile, warns us to be ready and not to become bloated with the pleasures of this world. Living in the Roman Empire had become completely decadent with sexual corruption, hedonism, gluttony, and barbaric cruelty. Luke was saddened that what was called “civilization” had sunk so low.
Despite Jesus’ teaching about the unpredictability of the timing of the end, people never stopped speculating about it. In St Paul’s time, Christians thought that Jesus’ Second Coming was going to happen in their lifetime. In probably the first New Testament book to be written, and thus the oldest of Christian writings, Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, reﬂecting that belief, concentrates on those things that Paul thought to be important. One of these is the Gospel value of love (3:12). Also, like everyone who believes the end to be near, he fully expresses his emotions, telling the Thessalonians how much they mean to him. That alone is a lesson in preparing for Jesus’ Second Coming.
A modern lesson in preparing for Jesus’ coming is the story of a junior executive who approached his grouchy boss to tell him how deeply he admired his creative genius. The boss was very surprised, and also deeply impressed. That night the boss came home to his 14-year-old son and sat him down. He said, “The most incredible thing happened to me today,” and told him the story.
Then he continued, “As I was coming home tonight, I thought about you. When I come home I don’t pay a lot of attention to you. Sometimes I scream at you for not getting good enough grades in school and for your bedroom being a mess. But somehow tonight I just wanted to sit here and, well, just let you know that, besides your mother, you’re the most important person in my life. You’re a great kid and I love you!”
The startled boy started to sob and sob, and he couldn’t stop crying, His whole body shook. At last, he looked up at his father and said through his tears. “I was planning on running away tomorrow, Dad, because I didn’t think you loved me. Now I don’t need to.”
Perhaps the idea may be summed up in an unknown author’s poem entitled The Time Is Now:
If you are ever going to love me,
Love me now, while I can know
The sweet and tender feelings
Which from true affection ﬂow.
Love me now
While I am living.
Do not wait until I’m gone
And then have it chiselled in marble,
Sweet words on ice-cold stone.
If you have tender thoughts of me,
Please tell me now.
If you wait until I am sleeping,
Never to awaken,
There will be death between us,
And I won’t hear you then.
So, if you love me, even a little bit,
Let me know it while I am living
So I can treasure it.
With the Thessalonians Paul, like Jesus, in a positive and afﬁrming way encourages them to avoid unethical conduct (3:13) and to keep their fervour alive. He reminds them of the instructions that were handed down from Jesus through the, Apostles (4:1). These Were practical prin-ciples that Paul worked out in accordance with his understanding of the role of the Spirit (4:2).
How would we live this Advent if we knew it was going to be our last? We would certainly focus our life on what we think matters. What mattered to Jeremiah was to make all virtue, especially integrity and justice, the centrepiece of people’s relationship with God and others. Paul’s focus was to pray for an increase of love, to fully express our emotions in telling others how much they mean to us and how much we love them. Jesus adds to all this to beware, be vigilant, and pray.
Now’s the time to prepare: to watch and wait for Jesus. There will be some anxiety, surely. But mostly there will be eagerness, as there is when we go to meet a loved one. There will be a glow of expectancy that’s similar to that of a woman awaiting the birth of her baby, or to that of children before a Christmas creche.
We meet Jesus not only historically at Christmas or at our death, or at the end of the world. We meet him every day of our lives, through all the graces of our friendships and the opportunities he gives us. We must watch for him, To watch for Jesus means – as Cardinal Newman said ( Parochial and Plain Sermons) —to be awake, alive, quick sighted, zealous in honouring him; to look out for him in all that happens; to be detached from what is present, and to live in what is unseen; to live in the thought of Christ as he came once, and as he will come again; to desire his Second Coming, from our affectionate and grateful remembrance of his First.
Let our preparation for this Christmas be a test. Are we willing to forget what we’ve done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for us; to ignore what the world owes us and to think of what we owe the world; to put our rights in the background, our duties in the middle distance, and our chances to do a little more than our duty in the foreground; to look behind the faces of our fellow human beings to their hearts, hungry for joy; to admit that probably the only good reason for our existence is not what we we’re going to get out of life, but what we’re going to give to life; to close our book of complaints against the management of the universe and look around for a place where we can sow a few seeds of happiness? Are we willing to do these things even for a day? If so, we’re ready to keep Christmas. If not, let’s do something about it, starting with this Advent period of waiting.