HOMILY FOR THE 1ST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Readings: Is. 63:16-17, 19, 64:2-7/1Cor. 1:3-9
Psalm: 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
Gospel: Mk. 13:33-37
Whenever an artist begins work on a painting, he stares at an empty canvas. When an author starts to write, he looks at an empty page. Before a musician plays a single note, he is engulfed by the silence surrounding them. Each person shares the same feeling prior to the beginning of their creation from nothing to magnificence. It is that moment of anticipation; that moment of anxious enthusiasm; that moment of determined resolve just before making that first move that brings the anticipation of greatness to consume all that would become part of its spell. Sometimes the anticipation becomes greater than the event itself. A tension builds as the seconds tick away that leaves us in a state of suspension that can, on occasion, cause us to lose our senses in the moment that when it finally arrives, we return to a reality that is more cheerful than before. This is what Christians around the world experience every year as we conclude the Liturgical Year and enter into the season of Advent.
The word Advent comes from the Latin for “coming.” The origins of this season are a matter of discussion. It was added to the Liturgical Calendar in the 5th Century as the feasts of the Nativity and Epiphany were becoming more prominent in Christendom, particularly in Spain and France. At one time, Advent had the same charism as did the Lenten season, for example, the observance during the season to observe a time of fasting in preparation. That is where we get the idea of Advent being a “mini Lent.” In fact, in the Celtic tradition, Advent went as long as Lent. It was a 40-day period starting on the third Wednesday in November and continuing to the Feast of the Epiphany, to mirror the season of Lent. There are some that still follow this calendar, to mark the important moments IN our world that helps us move toward the most important moment OF the world: When the WORD became Flesh; and dwelt among us.
Yet as we begin our anticipation of the birth of our savior, it is interesting that the first reading we hear proclaimed today is a cry for God to return to us when we have walked away from him. As the Jews were returning to Jerusalem from their exile, there was little enthusiasm to restore their faith in God as much as there was restoring themselves in their homeland. So Isaiah cries out to God to remember them, even when Israel has forgotten God. Oh, they have a recollection of God and what He did for them when they settled in Jerusalem, but it is not a solid connection, just a faded memory. Even if what they do would be considered doing God’s will, their deeds are “like polluted rags.” Isaiah became the “voice crying out in the wilderness” and made a plea to God to remember His covenant and for Israel to remember their covenant with Him. For Isaiah, this was his mission. He felt it his duty to God and to his people to bring them back together for the sake of their civilization. It was a matter of faith. It was a matter of hope. It was a matter of anticipation.
Being in a state of anticipation for the coming of the Messiah is always desirable. However, there is a danger in always anticipating his arrival. On the one hand, we place ourselves in such a state of anticipation that we get a sense of “tunnel vision” that we neglect everything else in our lives waiting for this event to happen. We neglect our friends; our family; ourselves; in other words, all of creation takes a back seat to our anticipation. On the other hand, we stay in anticipation so long that, after a while, our focus gets lost to other things to the point that we forget what we are waiting for or give it less attention than we should. Like the people that Isaiah is crying out for, when the cares of the world take our focus from the cares of God, our desire to know God becomes diminished. It can even be discarded and ridiculed as something archaic and superstitious. Then when we try to bring our focus back to God, we have a tendency to overcompensate, furthering the perception of our anticipation being nothing more than superstition.
Anticipation left on its own can cause a person to lose focus. The mission of Isaiah in bringing the Jews’ focus back on the coming Messiah is expressed in the Gospel proclaimed today. Jesus is admonishing the crowds to stay vigilant at all times because the Son of Man will comes when it is least expected. What is vigilance? The dictionary defines vigilance as watchfulness or being on alert to avoid any possible harm. In other words, we need to pay attention to what is going on around us as we continue our anticipation for the coming Messiah. The type of vigilance that Jesus asks us to have is the type he was explaining in the Gospel. Both the servants and the gatekeepers are to stay alert while doing their work because no one knows when the owner of the estate will return from his travels. His hope for us is that we are not found asleep when he returns. The consequences will be severe.
Vigilance is not a short-term thing. It is constant. We stay vigilant in our words and actions toward ourselves and each other so we can live in a peaceful society. We stay vigilant in our faith by adhering to the precepts of whatever denomination we subscribe. And we stay vigilant in realizing those moments when we go astray and do what we can to get back on track without going overboard. To be vigilant means to see the entire horizon rather than having tunnel vision.
During this Advent Season, we have the opportunity to bring our focus back to our anticipation in welcoming the Messiah, either for the first time, reconnecting with him after a long absence, or continuing the conversation we have with him on a regular basis. Each Sunday, we gather together to partake in Christ’s Body and Blood at Mass. That is not superstition or hyperbole. It is a truth of the Church handed down to us by the Apostles themselves. Whether or not we accept it shows the level of our anticipation and vigilance. When we enter into this space before Mass, we sit in silence in front of the tabernacle, the place of reservation for Christ. This can be a time for reconnection with him and evaluation of our relationship with him in our lives day-in and day-out. And then there are times-like Peter, James and John witnessed-we see Christ in his majesty whenever he is exposed in the Monstrance for all to venerate. Then he blesses us by his benediction so we can see him Transfigured just as they did.
How we connect with Christ is just as important as how we connect with each other, for where two or three are together in his name, he will be in their midst. We just have to anticipate his arrive, be vigilant in when, where and how he arrives and rejoice when we are welcomed as an old friend as he takes us home with him to Paradise.
MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK
Questions for Reflection:
- What does Advent mean for you? Is it a time of anticipation or is it a “Mini-Lent?”
- Are there times that you thought God had walked away? Was it that you walked away from God?
- Jesus tells us all to “Watch!” How do you keep watch for the Messiah?