Homily: 1st Sunday of Advent – Cycle A
Does anybody here remember Thanksgiving? “Oh, Father. Thanksgiving is so, like, 15 minutes ago!” Yeah, I know. You know, I don’t have a TV over at the rectory so I hardly ever watch TV. But my parents and my sister have TVs in just about every room in their houses and so when I’m home visiting, like I was these last few days, I can’t help but watch some of it. And by the looks of what I saw on TV, Thanksgiving was over before it even began. Everything leading up to and throughout the day was about getting you to think about Christmas.
And the Christmas that they want you to think about isn’t the Christmas of Jesus, but rather the Christmas of immediate satisfaction, right?: every ad on TV, on the radio, and in the newspapers is desperate to convince you that 1) if you’ve waited until now, you’re already too late and 2) that if you get or give the latest thing that you and your loved ones will never be sad again. (Which, by the way, is a total lie, because if it were true then you wouldn’t have a need to go back to the stores after Christmas, which would mean that they would all shut down… and that isn’t gonna happen.) But then we show up here, for Mass, on this first Sunday of Advent and what do we see? Not Christmas, but what? Purple? Yes, the color purple. The color of penance, conversion, and preparation. Yes, it seems like the Church is telling us a different message, a contrasting message. Hopefully, this is a contrast that makes us stop and think.
But you know, there wasn’t much difference in Jesus’ time. The coming of the Messiah had been long-delayed, it seemed, and the people of Jesus’ time had become complacent with their daily lives. Their religion became more of a culture—an expression of who they were as a people—instead of way to remain focused on the coming of the Messiah and their daily concerns were causing them to lose focus on the bigger picture: their ultimate salvation and redemption through the coming of God’s anointed one.
And so Jesus, speaking to his disciples, gives a lesson to help wake them up. He recalls the history of Noah and the flood in order to remind his disciples of how the vast majority of people were not ready for the coming of the flood, because instead of responding to Noah’s prophesy through building the arc, they continued “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.” And when the flood came, it was too late and they were all carried away. They were focused on the “right now”, Jesus seems to say, and so they were unprepared for what was to come.
This is his lesson to his disciples (and so to us): stay awake and be ready for the coming of the Son of Man. For his coming will be even more sudden than the coming of the flood; more sudden than a thief who comes in the middle of the night; so sudden and unexpected will it be that even those who are ready for it won’t know that it has come until it is upon them: like it would be if two men were working in the field and one would suddenly disappear or if two women were working at the mill and one would suddenly disappear. And so, he tells them (and us), “stay awake!”
Saint Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, repeats this message. He says to them, “Brothers and sisters: you know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation in nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand.” In both Jesus’ and Saint Paul’s message there is urgency: a sense that there is no time to lose; that, in fact, we are perhaps already too late… Wait, doesn’t that sound a bit like a message we receive in nearly every commercial or advertisement? And so you see just how countercultural the Gospel is in our modern day. While the culture of the world is telling us “Go now! Shop! Spend! Indulge! because you’re going to be too late!”, the Gospel tells us “Turn away from all of those things, because the day of salvation—the day when all of those things will be left behind—is already at hand.”
On November 30th, the Church celebrates the feast day of Saint Andrew, the apostle. Although by one Gospel account, Andrew was the first to respond to Jesus’ call, we have almost no words of his recorded: either in the Gospels themselves or in letters that he may have written before his martyrdom. The few words that we have recorded appear in the gospel of John, when, after encountering Jesus and engaging in dialogue with him, he was so convinced of who Jesus was that he rushed to his brother Peter and said to him, “We have found the Messiah.” (John 1:41) Saint John Chrysostom, reflecting on Andrew’s reaction to his encounter with Jesus and on these few words of Andrew’s, states “Andrew’s words reveal a soul waiting with the utmost longing for the coming of the Messiah, looking forward to his appearing from heaven, rejoicing when he does appear, and hastening to announce so great an event to others.”
Saint Andrew revealed himself as one who was awake and ready to encounter the Messiah. I wonder about how many of us are awake and ready to encounter the Messiah, the Son of Man, when he comes again? Yet, that is exactly the question that is being posed to us today: “Are you ready to encounter Jesus should he come today?” Or, better yet, “Are you daily ready to encounter Jesus, when he comes?” If the answer is “no” or even “I’m not sure”, then the season of Advent is for you.
My brothers and sisters, the encounter with the Risen Lord, announced to us in the Gospels, calls us to a different mode of living: that of the “already, but not yet.” The day of our salvation has come, for Jesus, the Word of God, has become flesh, has suffered and died for our sins, and has arisen, conquering death forever. Yet the day of our salvation is still coming when Jesus, who sits now at God’s right hand, will come again to judge the world and gather all of God’s faithful ones into his kingdom. Advent, therefore, is the season that reminds us to live in this tension of “already, but not yet.”
And so, instead of diving into the deep end of the Christmas flood that is already upon us, believers enter into it prayerfully and slowly: focusing not just on what I can get and what others want from me, but rather on giving and getting that strengthens the bonds of relationships between us and keeps us focused and moving forward towards our true happiness: the eternal day in which we shall all walk in the light of the Lord; the foretaste of which we enjoy here in the Eucharist. My brothers and sisters, this Advent calls us to focus once again on the coming of our Lord even as we prepare to celebrate our remembrance of his first coming; for it is in the light of this first coming that we can walk in the hope of his second coming. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, “come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – December 1st, 2013