Sunday, December 4, 2011

Are you "tired" of Christmas already?

Hey Folks!  Here's the homily I preached for the second Sunday of Advent at my ministry parishes in Jeffersonville, IN.  I have many, many more things to say about the much maligned season of Advent, but this is all I can bear to write now.  May God bless your Advent season with joy-filled expectation (instead of resentment) of Christmas!
~ Given at Saint Augustine and Sacred Heart parishes, Jeffersonville, IN – December 3rd & 4th, 2011.

          Last Saturday marked the end of the liturgical year.  In the Gospel reading for the Mass of the day on that last day of the Church year, Jesus is quoted as saying, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life….” (Luke 21:34) It’s no accident that that particular reading is read on the last day of the Church liturgical year.  After 34 weeks of Ordinary Time—when we focus on growing spiritually and morally in the context of our daily lives—the Church realizes that most of us probably do have hearts that have “become drowsy”—perhaps from drunkenness and carousing, but most likely from the anxieties of daily life.  And so there is a certain genius on the Church’s part to place that reading right on the cusp of the new liturgical year.  It reminds us that perhaps our hearts have become drowsy and then it ushers us right into Advent, a season designed to help “wake us up.”

          Our first reading today from the prophet Isaiah is a beautiful reading—full of awe and wonder.  While the reader did a great job reading it, I think it would require a method actor to really convey the joy-filled expectation that these words express.  Listen to some of these again:

Comfort, give comfort to my people,
 says your God.
 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her
 that her service is at an end,
her guilt is expiated…

And still further:

…Go up on to a high mountain,
 Zion, herald of glad tidings;
 cry out at the top of your voice,
 Jerusalem, herald of good news!
 Fear not to cry out
 and say to the cities of Judah:
 Here is your God! 

These are words of great joy and expectation and are simply wonderful to ponder.  Perhaps, however, we are unable to see the joy that these words convey, at least not in our current situation.  Perhaps, even after one week of Advent, our hearts are still drowsy—tired, weary, and numb—from the anxieties of our daily lives.  Of course, one need not look farther than the newspaper to understand why: violence and drug use continue to escalate in our cities and neighborhoods, jobs continue to be scarce and an economic recovery continues to be lethargic, national politics remains, it seems, disconnected from the daily struggles of individuals and families, and there are countless other reasons as well.  And so no, it’s not surprising that our hearts may have become drowsy and we are unable to relate to the awe and wonder expressed in today’s first reading.

          Yet, when we listen to the Gospel reading, we see that the Jews living during Jesus’ time also seemed to be struggling with the same problem.  Now, the Gospel of Mark is notoriously slim on narrative details and so we’ll have to read between the lines a little bit to see that their hearts were also drowsy and in need of awakening.  The Gospel begins by quoting our reading from the prophet Isaiah and then essentially equates it with John’s proclamation in the desert, calling for a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  The Gospel states that “people of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him.”  In other words, the whole Jewish nation heard of John’s proclamation and began to come to him to be baptized.  Perhaps many of them were reluctant at first, unable to see the “awe” in the awe-filled proclamation that John was making.  Eventually, perhaps, through the witness of seeing others go out to the Jordan River or of speaking with others who returned from there, these reluctant ones could see that their hearts indeed had become drowsy waiting for the coming of God that Isaiah had promised.  With “hearts awake,” however, they could experience the joy-filled expectation that the coming promised by the prophet was now at hand.

          And so we encounter these readings here today in this season of Advent for the same purpose: to call us to recognize the drowsiness of our own hearts so that we too may awaken to the experience of joy-filled expectation for the second-coming of Jesus.  Just like those ancient Jews, it feels like Christ’s promised return is long-delayed, but when we recognize—as Saint Peter reminds us our second reading today—that “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day,” it makes it easier to see that Jesus’ delay is, ultimately, for our benefit.  Christ wishes that all of us should come to repentance, as Saint Peter reminds us, and so every second that he delays—which is as nothing to him—is a gift of opportunity for us to wake up our drowsy hearts, so as to be ready when he comes.

          My sisters and brothers, Jesus did not tell his disciples to “beware that their hearts not become drowsy” because he is an exacting master, demanding strict discipline so as to never sin.  Rather, he was instructing them—and so us through the preservation of his words in the Gospels—to remain vigilant so that they would not be asleep and miss out on the joy of witnessing his return in glory.  My sisters and brothers, this is what the season of Advent is doing for us.  It’s as if the season itself is saying, “Take comfort, for this time of suffering is at an end and the time for Christ’s return is near!”  If it hasn’t done this for you yet, then I encourage you to spend time praying with these readings in this coming week and to ask God to awaken in your heart a joy-filled expectation for his coming.

          And if it has?  Well, I think the Gospel then shows us what to do.  All of the people from the Judean countryside and the city-dwellers of Jerusalem came out to John to receive the baptism of repentance and to acknowledge their sins—to “make straight a path” in their hearts for the coming of the long-awaited Messiah, the one Isaiah promised.  We too, then, are called to repent and acknowledge our sins.  For the fully-initiated, that means the sacrament of reconciliation—confession—and it is why the Church encourages all Catholics to celebrate this sacrament during the season of Advent.  As we hear the readings reminding us of how the ancient Jews prepared the way of the Lord in their hearts at the sound of John’s proclamation, so we too are called to prepare a pathway for Christ to come into our hearts by reconciling with both God and our neighbor through the sacrament of confession.

          Friends, beware that yours hearts do not become drowsy from the oversaturation of “Christmas Spirit” that the world outside of these walls is drowning you in.  Rather, use this time of Advent to prepare well your heart for Christ’s second coming and the best gift you will receive on Christmas day may very well be the joy of the Lord in your heart.

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