THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT – A- December 01, 2013

 

The Book of the Prophet Isaiah 2:1-5

The Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans 13:11-14

The holy Gospel according to Matthew 24:37-44

 

There may well not be another time of the year when the faith community seems more out of step with the rest of society than during the season of Advent.  Actually, for some weeks now it has been that way; but it intensifies beginning Thanksgiving Day at midnight.  You have noticed in many of the major department stores that Christmas decorations have been up, in some stores since Halloween.  The lights and the sound of carols lure shoppers and at the same time, steep them in Christmas.  No wonder that all the signs of Christmas disappear from the malls by dawn of the day after Christmas.  The average person is tired of it all by then anyway.

Some think the twelve days of Christmas are the countdown to the day of Christmas itself.  Don’t you believe it!

When we enter the worship space this Sunday, things should be fairly stark.  Subdued lighting and the color purple and hymns summoning Emmanuel are in order.  It is not as somber a season as Lent might be, but it is definitely one of anticipation.  Advent stirs our hunger for Christ’s coming – not as an infant this time, but as the King of Glory claiming the Kingdom.  And the question for us is, of course, will we be ready to greet him?

It has been said that one of the things that stood in the way of many conversions to Christianity was that what seemed to have been promised, as coming through the Messiah would be the Messianic Age.  Listen to what Isaiah’s prophesy foretells.  Swords beaten into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks will indicate that one nation shall not raise the sword against another nor shall they train for war again.  These days one’s head would have to be in the proverbial sand to think that all that has happened.  As was the case for many after the Holocaust, and following the various wars of the 20th century, the question rose regarding the existence of God, how could God allow such horrors to happen?  And the same is the doubt that rages after every natural disaster.  Where is your God?

That is why Advent is meant to be a season of longing for, and not a prolonged celebration of Christmas.  There is still darkness, but the Light is coming.  By the way, that is why the date, December 25th, was chosen for the celebration of Christmas.  The longest night has past and the days have begun to lengthen.

The first reading from the Prophet Isaiah teems with hope, joy, and enthusiasm.  Splendid images of peace and accord, of all nations streaming toward Jerusalem, the mountain of the Lord’s house, the highest mountain.  And peace shall reign.  Would you believe that the Prophet proclaims as war and destruction loom for the people?  He has a double purpose.  One is to sustain hope in the hearts of the chosen ones during what could be the direst of times.  This too shall pass.  Second, and as important, Isaiah invites the people to walk now in the light of God’s love and know God’s embrace.  Ultimately there is the promise of fulfillment and the dawning of God’s reign.

The second Reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans speaks of the imminence of Christ’s return in glory.  Paul was convinced that he and the first converts to Christianity would live to see that day.  That is why he urges a strengthening of faith and a conversion of life – throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.  He wants the followers of Christ to live different lives from those of non-believers.   In Baptism they put on Christ.  He urges them to live that life as imitators of Christ.

I remember the haunting question of some years ago.  If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?  It is not that Paul wants Christians to go around blowing trumpets and dressed in splendor, calling attention to themselves.  Imitate Christ.  That’s what it is all about.

It is humiliating in that light to look at some periods of the church’s history.  A church of splendor was evident from time to time, as was a church of tyranny.  It should have been difficult to reconcile burning people at the stake with Christ’s Gospel.  Christ shunned regal splendor and urged his disciples to put on poverty and carry his cross.  Pope Francis, in the estimation of many, is the prophet this age desperately needs, even as his message is hard for some to hear.  Francis is convinced that what the Spirit is inspiring in us is a poorer church serving the needs of the poor.  This should be a church that welcomes all, just as Christ did, even sinners.  Instead the message of late seems to have been one of exclusion and denouncing, one of quickly pointing out those who should not be welcome at the Table, and an ever narrowing of the number of those who will attain heaven.  Alas.  Those of that ilk must shudder as the pope states that even atheists who try to do good can get into heaven.

Matthew’s Gospel reading continues the call to watch and be ready.  Jesus talks about the suddenness of the flood and all those who ignored Noah’s warning and were washed away in the waters.  It is not difficult to think of current sudden disasters that have washed people away in the raging storms of destruction.  It was horrifying to read of 10,000 people dying in the typhoon that roared through the Philippines.  That number may be higher by the time you read this.  But I wonder if the Lord uses the image of Noah’s flood to get the attention of the listener in order to call them to something new.

Certainly watch.  Certainly stay awake.  But for what?  Could it be that we are to watch and listen for the dawn of faith?  I don’t believe that God sends horrors.  Jesus isn’t urging a people to live in dread.  I believe Jesus is speaking about our hearing the call to conversion and to being disciples so that we know God’s love.  The Advent longing is for the Light of Faith that comes with the birth of Christ in the human heart.

Tim Donnelly is a young man who survived an explosive device as a soldier in Afghanistan.  He lost both legs and the use of his right arm.  He sings beautifully.  He spoke of his experiences saying that he thought he understood the meaning of the song, Halleluiah that he sang, albeit a broken halleluiah.  He said he didn’t understand the song.  But then his whole life came down around his ears.  Every dream he had was broken around him.  He did not know where to turn in his devastation.  At his lowest point, he said, he heard God speak to him.   Do you still trust me?  Do you still think I have what is best for you?

Tim said, It was in that moment that I understood Halleluiah.

Now hear Jesus say, so too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.  Perhaps everyone won’t believe.  A man may be left standing in the field and a women grinding at the mill.  But, please God, we will listen and respond as the Light dawns.

Sincerely,

Didymus  

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