Homily: 1st Sunday of Advent – Cycle C
I don’t know about all of you, but I am pretty tired. I’ve been here for five months now and have found that pastoring a parish of this size—one that is also the Cathedral, and all of the trappings that come with that—is a lot of work. And I mean that in the very literal, scientific sense: for work is energy expended over time and I know that I have been expending a lot of energy over extended periods of time in the last five months.
I would guess that it’s pretty safe to say, however, that I’m not the only one who is feeling this way. Let me ask, how many here have a new baby? How many of you have more than one kid under 7 years old at home? How many have moved sometime this year? How many have either lost or switched jobs? And how many of you are working and going to school at the same time? How many of you have lost a loved one recently? How many of us are dealing with emotional turmoil from the scandals in the Church? I’m guessing that this covers most everyone here. But, even if I didn’t mention part of your situation, I suspect that all of us could identify some things in our lives that are causing us to expend a great deal of energy: either just to keep up with our lives or, perhaps, to cope with the stress of transitioning into something new in our lives. Regardless of what it is, all of us can probably admit that we are feeling a bit worn down by it all: that we, too, are tired.
As a result, I think that a lot of us hope that we could come here and hear a word of comfort. Perhaps we’ve come here hoping that the Gospel reading for the day would be something like: “Well done, good and faithful servant, come share in your master’s joy.” Instead, we walk into this season of Advent and are greeted with an exhortation from Saint Paul saying, “The good that you’ve already been doing, you should do more!” Then, on top of that, Christ tells us to “be vigilant at all times,” that is, not to take a break. And, as if that wasn’t enough, he prefaces that statement by saying, “You know, everything is actually going to get a lot worse before it gets better!” Thus, when we hear Christ’s instruction to us—“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy…”—it really doesn’t seem all that helpful. And what we come to realize is that our hearts, indeed, have become drowsy.
In many ways, however, we are not unlike the ancient Israelites. For centuries, they waited for the Messiah—the one promised them by God who would redeem them and free them from all of their oppressors. Yet, their hearts had become drowsy from waiting as they endured exile away from their homeland, and then occupation of their homeland by foreign invaders after their return. And so, even though God had sent them prophets throughout these times to remind them of his promises—like the prophet Jeremiah, from who we heard in the first reading today—many of the Israelites still failed to see in Jesus the coming of the One for whom they had longed ///
Perhaps to us it seems as if Christ’s return is also long delayed. And perhaps, therefore, we’ve allowed our focus to drift away from our eternal destiny, our anticipation of his coming to become dulled, and our discipline in prayer and good works to lapse. In other words, perhaps we, too, have allowed our hearts to become drowsy from the anxieties, the worries, the stresses of our daily lives. We’ve lost sight of the goal, it seems, and, thus, feel a bit lost.
At the end of each calendar year, we all somewhat instinctively assess where we’ve been throughout the year. For some, this is a time of great anxiety as we look back at what we desired to accomplish in the last year and see what remains undone. For others, the stress comes from seeing how, though great efforts were made, circumstances meant that there was little to show for it. Still for others, it is a time of despair when we see that, through fear or lack of self-confidence, another year has passed and we have not made any moves to improve a difficult situation in our lives.
This is why the Church, in her wisdom, guided by the Holy Spirit, gives us this season of Advent at the end of the calendar year. She knows how easy it is to get bogged down by the work of daily living and so She offers us this season as a “wake-up call” and a reminder to us that the promise of Christ’s second coming—the promise that there is something greater yet to come—is still before us. Advent, therefore, is the great season of detachment: of letting go of those things that tie us to this world and its anxieties, lest we be caught off-guard, cowering in fear after the days of tribulation, when Christ will come. It is also the season of remembering that we can never accomplish our fulfillment alone: for Christ came to us specifically because we could not effect our salvation on our own. Rather, we needed the help of Another—who is God made man, born in a cave outside of Jerusalem.
Brothers and sisters, our Christian faith tells us that we have been made for greatness and that our work in this life is to strive for that greatness always. It also reminds us, however, that our ability to reach the heights of that greatness is limited and that we can never achieve it on our own. Advent is the season in which we are reminded to rejoice, regardless; because in Advent—which, literally translated, means “the arrival”—we remember that God himself has come, in our human nature, in order to overcome our weaknesses, and that God himself will come again to fulfill his promise to end our anxieties and to draw us into himself: the place of our eternal rest.
And so, my brothers and sisters, if your hearts have become drowsy, then let this be your wake-up call. Because our hope, Jesus Christ our Savior, is coming—and has already come—to relieve us and to lead us home.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – December 1st & 2nd, 2018