Sunday, December 4, 2016

Prepare for the days after the celebration

          In case any of you think that you missed my homily last weekend, you didn't!  I was away in Colorado celebrating two friends of my who married each other.  Colorado is beautiful (and cold)!  With a full four weeks of Advent this year, however, we have plenty of time to prepare.  I hope that these postings will continue to benefit all of you who read them.


Homily: 2nd Sunday of Advent – Cycle A
          Although I’ve never actually planned a wedding, I can tell that there is a lot of preparation work that goes into it.  Once you choose a day and set it in stone, all sorts of deadlines suddenly appear before you: reserve a hall for the reception, reserve a photographer, order flowers, choose a caterer, shop for dresses and tuxedos, etc.  There is a lot of planning that goes into celebrating a wedding and I’m sure a lot of sacrifices have to be made in order to plan it well (including all the stereotypes of brides taking on intense diets and exercise so as to fit into that perfect dress that they found, right?).  The days and months leading up to the wedding become a “season of preparation” of sorts, in which the anxiety (and the stress) for the celebration grows, but in which the celebration never actually begins.
          Advent is a time of preparation.  Like Lent, which prepares us for the celebration of Easter, Advent is the time when we prepare for our celebration of Christ’s first coming among us when he was born in Bethlehem.  It is a time to plan ahead, putting the things in place so that our celebration of Christmas is as joy-filled and memorable as it could be.  Like preparing for a wedding, it is intended to be a time in which the anxiety (and, sometimes, the stress) for the celebration grows, but in which the celebration doesn’t yet begin.
          Now, aside from all of the concrete practical reasons for which this is necessary (e.g. it would be really expensive to try to celebrate your wedding for weeks leading up to the wedding day), there are many other spiritual reasons that make this time of preparation important for us.  As we know, the man and the woman who decide to marry must prepare not only for the wedding day, but for everything that comes after the wedding day: that is, their life together that begins on that great day of celebration.  After their wedding day, their lives will be radically different and if they are not prepared to embrace those differences, then they will find that the joy of their wedding will quickly fade and they may begin to question whether or not all of the preparation was worth it after all.
          We, too, as Christians, should look at these seasons of preparation, like Advent, not only as times to prepare for the celebration of the greatest feasts of Our Lord, like Christmas, but also as times to prepare for everything that comes after the day of celebration.  This is because our celebration of Christmas, if done well, should change us in some way; and although our lives might not be radically different after Christmas, they should still be different.  In this first part of Advent we consider the fulfillment of Christ’s first coming and remind ourselves of our need to be ready for his second coming at the end of time.  This fits right in with the idea of preparing for what will happen after Christmas Day and this is exactly what our Scriptures ask us to consider today.
          In our Gospel reading, John the Baptist is calling all to repent in order to prepare for the coming of the Messiah.  His call was more than the trite “bumper sticker prophesy” of “Jesus is coming: look busy!”  Rather, it was a call to true repentance, because when the Messiah appears everything is going to be different.  This is why he had strong words for the Pharisees and the Sadducees who were coming out to him.  He was warning them that this had to be a repentance from the heart and not just for show, because the time of the Messiah will be a time when the works of all will be laid bare.  Therefore, it will not be enough to say “I am a son of Abraham” (for God, as John pointed out, can raise up sons of Abraham from the rocks!).  Rather, each must prove their repentance by their good works.  So we see, his call to repentance was not just a preparation to celebrate the day of the Messiah’s coming, but rather it was a call to prepare to live in a world that had been radically changed by his coming.  Those who fail to do so will find themselves at odds with the Lord: perhaps even “cut down at the root”, like a tree that produces no fruit.
          Saint Paul, who knew of Christ's first coming, anxiously anticipated his return and so continued to teach the first Christians: “Do not turn back to your old ways!  That world is over, the new one is here and is still coming.  Therefore, you must live now as if you are already there in its fullness.  You’ve been preparing for so long.  Now, everything has changed and so you must live differently as if the world of peace and harmony about which Isaiah prophesied has already been realized among us.  In fact,” he seems to say, “your community ought to be a place of encounter with this fulfillment.”
          Thus, Saint Paul prays that God will give them the grace to “think in harmony with one another” so that “with one accord [they] may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Then… then they will be the “signal for the nations” that “the Gentiles shall seek out”, as Isaiah prophesied, and God’s salvation will be extended to all people.
          We recount these readings here today because our task is still the same as it was for the Christians of the first century.  If we are truly anticipating the world that Isaiah prophesied about, then we must be living like Saint Paul taught the Roman Christians.  In order to do that, we need to turn away from our sin, like Saint John the Baptist calls us to do.  Most especially, we need to make sacrifices (such as fasting and praying) during this time of preparation so that we are ready not only to celebrate the anniversary of Christ’s birth on Christmas Day, but also to live as renewed Christians who are still anxious for his coming in the days that follow it.
          This, of course, is hard to do in a culture that is quick to jump to the celebration of Christmas.  One must have discipline and a spirit of penitence to resist the temptation to celebrate before the day of celebration.  This is a holy and grace-filled time of year, however, and so my prayer for all of you is that you can resist this temptation and so let your anticipation grow; so that it might stretch and strengthen you to live with renewed joy the coming celebration.
          May the Lord’s coming to us that we experience here in this Holy Eucharist help us to take up this good work of preparation so that the fulfillment of what we anticipate—that is, true harmony among all creation—might be realized now, in our time.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – December 3rd and 4th, 2016

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