Saturday, November 9, 2013

Homily - 1st Sunday of Advent (Year A)

1st Sunday of Advent (Year A)

First Reading: Isaiah 2:1-5            Second Reading: Romans 13:11-14             Gospel Reading: Matthew 24:36-44

Today we begin a new season of Advent and it is its 1st Sunday. Here we go again! Another Liturgical Year has ebbed away. The Liturgical Year C of St. Luke has come full circle and a new one, viz. Liturgical Year A of St. Matthew is upon us. This means that throughout this year, we will be reading through the Gospel of St. Matthew, though at times we will also be reading some of St. John’s Gospel, which is interspersed in all three Liturgical Years, as St. John doesn’t have a year to himself.

Now, in the general literal sense, the word 'advent' means 'coming of someone,' but in the Christian Liturgical sense it specifically implies to 'the coming of Christ.' So specifically therefore, with the start of Advent today, we begin the period of expectation and waiting for the coming of Christ, our Savior — his birth on the first Christmas day. But actually, the Lord comes to us in three ways:
      1. The first coming of Jesus about 2000 years ago when he came as our Savior. This was the event long awaited for by the Jews of the Old Testament. During Advent, we relive in our own lives their experience of waiting for the Lord's coming as our way of preparing for the anniversary of his birth, which is exciting, but also predictable.
      2. The second coming is the glorious return of Jesus in future at the end of time. Risen Jesus who is now seated at the right hand of the Father will come again but this time as King and Judge of both the living and the dead. But we do not know when will it happen.
      3. The third coming is situated between the first two comings. It is Jesus' daily coming into our hearts here and now at every moment of every day in the sacraments – very specifically through the Eucharist, and therein lies a challenge for us as well as a comfort.
        Thus in a general sense, the period of Advent encompasses all time viz. Past, Present & Future. So, a Christian in this sense is always a citizen of Advent. Therefore, it is not surprising that we begin the new Liturgical Year this Sunday, with the same theme of 'the coming of Christ', where we ended it last Sunday.
Again, we have about 4 weeks of Advent and the 4 Sundays of Advent are supposed to prepare us for the celebration of Christmas. During these four weeks therefore, the Church invites us to enter into the longing of those who first waited for the coming of the Messiah. Scripture helps us to do this through the figures of Isaiah, John the Baptist and Mary. But the Holy season of Advent has an even more important preparation in mind viz. the readiness of each one of us for the 2nd & final coming of Christ at the end of the world, spoken of in today's Gospel Reading from St. Matthew. And this we do by means of our constant & active involvement through properly welcoming Christ, and receiving him in our hearts who comes to us today in sacraments.

The First Reading of today from the Book of the prophet Isaiah is from very early in the prophecy of Isaiah, from whom we shall hear a great deal over the next four and a bit weeks. This one gives an account of Isaiah’s vision 'concerning Judah and Jerusalem.' It is a vision of messianic peace and a promise of hope. The Lord’s 'advent' in salvation history is beautiful and heartening; it is an eminently hopeful and accessible event. He will enter the world at a certain time and place. The locale of the Lord's house will be established as the highest mountain, to which all nations shall stream. It results in an enormous pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the recasting of weapons of war into farming implements, and universal reconciliation. A reign of peace is predicted as a result of the nations’ reception of God’s instructions, walking in God’s ways, and submission to God’s judgment. It is in this light and vision that our God calls us to walk.
O come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” is the reading’s final invitation and it refers prophetically to the coming of Child Jesus in Bethlehem, who is the Light of our life. That is what we may call the First Coming. This also introduces us to one of the dominant images of Advent – the difference between light and darkness. Each day now before December 21, the day gets darker and darker. At Christmas it will begin to get lighter and lighter each day. We are much in darkness now. Before Jesus came, we were a people of darkness. But with the coming of Jesus, the Incarnation, God becoming a person, we have been shown the light, and the kingdom of God.

The Gospel Reading of today from St. Matthew talks about the second and final coming of Jesus, but we do not know when. Not knowing when he would come again, Jesus urged for watchfulness and vigilance on their part, "Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come." To illustrate this, he tells two short stories:
The first is the story about what happened to the people during the time of Noah when the Great Flood wiped away sinful humanity. They were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. This was not unusual and there was nothing wrong with it. What they did wrong was in not living up to their fidelity to God. Instead, they did what was abominable in God's sight: they worshiped idols. Signs were sent to warn them against their infidelity but they ignored the telltale signs of an impending flood and were swept away; they did not know the day their Lord would arrive. Only the faithful Noah, who heeded the word of God and proceeded to build an ark in a most unlikely a semi-desert place, and his family were saved.
The second story is about the thief in the night. As we know, a thief never telegraphs ahead his timetable. Otherwise, the owner of the house would be ready for him. Comparing Jesus to a thief in the night is a beautiful image. Like a thief, he will come to break into our hearts when we least expect it. He will come to open what is closed - our heart which is filled with everything else but the desire for God. But if we are vigilant and watchful, then we will be ready to welcome him when he does come.

However, there is still a third coming which forms an important and indispensable link between the First and Second Comings. It is the welcoming of Jesus into our lives in the here and now. This is something which takes place every day. This is all made more clear in the Second Reading of today from St. Paul's Letter to the Romans. “Now is the moment for you to wake from sleep,” he says. We are to lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. We should not spend our days in partying and drunkenness, in sexual immorality or in gossip and quarreling. Rather we are to live honorably pleasing God in our everyday behavior and to ‘put on’ the Lord Jesus Christ. What an interesting metaphor that is. St. Paul likens Jesus to clothing that we can wear. We are to clothe ourselves with Jesus.

During the Second World War a Protestant theologian named Dietrich Bonhoeffer was imprisoned for criticizing Hitler. Even in prison he continued to urge fellow believers to resist Nazi oppression although this led to severe punishments. A group of Christians, believing that Hitler was the Antichrist, asked Bonhoeffer, “Why do you expose yourself to all this suffering? Jesus will return any day, and all your work and suffering would have been for nothing.” Bonhoeffer replied, “If Jesus returns tomorrow, then tomorrow I will rest from my labor. But today I have work to do. I must continue the struggle until it is finished.” Bonhoefer knew and understood the Scriptures that it was not his duty to determine when the Lord would return. He understood that it was his duty to stay awake and be ready for the Lord’s return.

In the Gospel Reading of today our Lord tells us to 'stay awake' so that his coming which will come at an unexpected moment does not take us by surprise. It takes a lot of effort to remain awake when we are actually feeling sleepy. The similar effort is required to remain awake in spiritual matters. Remaining awake means being constantly aware of God's presence, remaining attentive to what he wants us to do and doing it, while refraining from that which displeases him, even when our natural inclination would lead us to it.
Knowing how hard it is for us to remain awake by our own efforts we might choose to use some aid, such as an alarm clock. In the same way, the Church, knowing how easily we dose off and fall asleep in spite of Christ's warning, has placed at our disposal means of turning our attention constantly back towards God, and that is the different forms of prayer. Advent is a good time to recommit ourselves to the full celebration of prayer, if we have grown lax. Let us choose our alarm clock to help us stay awake through this season of grace while we await the coming of the Lord.
For some of us it may not be a question of just staying awake, but actually of waking from sleep because we have been sleeping. This is the invitation of Paul in the Second Reading. He says: "Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy."
Advent is an opportunity to prepare our hearts for the arrival of the Christ Child at Christmas. Advent is a call to watchfulness and vigilance specially as regards the coming of Jesus into our hearts each and everyday. Advent also directs our minds and hearts to await Christ's second coming at the end of time. Advent is a time to wake up to God's love, and to realize more fully that God wants us to love one another as HE loves us, unconditionally and magnanimously. It is a time, especially, to renew our hearts in and through love. May Isaiah's prayer guide our journey through this Advent: “O COME, LET US WALK IN THE LIGHT OF THE LORD!” And this is the Good News of today.

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