Nov 26, 2016

1st Sunday of Advent - Are you ready?

"They shall beat their swords into plowshares . . ." 

Is 2: 1-5
Rm 13: 11-14
Mt 24: 37-44

The Word for Sunday:

"For he assumed at his first coming
the lowliness of human flesh,
and so fulfilled the design you formed long ago,
and opened for us the way to eternal salvation,
that, when he comes again in glory and majesty
. . . we who watch for that day
may inherit the great promise
in which now we dare to hope . . ."

(From Preface I for Advent)

Always at this time of year just after our national day of Thanksgiving and the famed “Black Friday” retail rush towards Christmas we find ourselves confronted with the Advent season which seems to put a damper on the growing Christmas spirit. Colored lights are shining, Christmas carols are heard over car radios and in stores, trees are decorated in public places, people are sending electronic Christmas e-cards over the internet or still doing it the old fashioned way by actually buying Christmas cards and writing in them and lines are noticeably  longer outside the post offices. The annual month long season of Christmas is upon us.  

But in our Churches we see the more subdued color of purple and a wreath with four candles that is only lit gradually over four weeks.  No nativity scenes yet and the signs of Christmas “out there” are yet to appear in all their beauty in our worship space.  To make matters even more challenging our Sunday scripture readings take on a more “not yet” theme.  If we listen carefully we hear a tone of longing and waiting rather than “here it is” celebrating.  So, we find a tension between our faith and the secular world.  It’s Advent in our Christian faith but do we simply leave that at Church and get on with everything else that is Christmas when the Mass is over? If we do, we haven’t yet captured this time. Advent provides us that reminder and opportunity to spiritually prepare for the coming of Christ. 

With the beginning of this new liturgical year, we have another opportunity for personal change. The mystery of God made human, the Incarnation, is truly an astounding belief. To say Jesus is our Savior is to look back thousands of years to a time when the ancient Jewish people heard the words of Isaiah in this Sunday’s first reading: “In days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain . . . all nations shall stream toward it .  .”

In rich imagery Isaiah, the prophet of the Messiah, hundreds of years before the coming of Jesus, offers a divine promise that God will set all things right; that a broken world will be healed, that, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise their sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” God will intervene and bring about a profound change in human history or so it sounds.

But, we wonder if and when that time will be because the world around us has not yet become that “highest mountain” of light. For the ancient Jews they held on that God will eventually flesh out his promise. Now, four weeks before Christmas 2016 Advent once again reminds us both to get ready and to reflect on what has happened but also to hope for what hasn’t yet – for that same Christ to come again.

So, the Gospel from Matthew this Sunday is rich with “be prepared” images.  We hear of Noah, aware of God's warning yet those around him who were simply complacent and imagined a never ending life of satisfaction and pleasure.  While Noah was tuned in to the signs of his time, the voice of God in their midst,  the general population was asleep.  Jesus states, “Therefore, stay awake!”  Be ready and watchful for the coming of the “Son of Man.”  

What God has done to humankind when he sent his Son, our Savior, has offered us the power to make the image of Isaiah a reality. As Isaiah speaks today of a city where “the Lord’s house” is established as the “highest mountain.”  Jesus referred to his followers as a city on a hill where “your light” should shine for all to see.  He called himself the “light of the world” and that we should not hide our light “under a bushel basket” but the good works we do in his name become an inspiration to others and that by doing so we draw others to that mountain.  

He said that we must “forgive our enemies” and be“peacemakers.”  Isaiah speaks of a time of peace and reconciliation between waring forces that will lay down their arms for the cause of peace and will “walk in the light of the Lord.”  Jesus told his followers to find non-violent ways to respond to violence rather than add fuel to the fires of hatred, division and fear. To imagine such a transformation in human history is to realize that we alone do not have that power so we invite God to work in and through us.  The point of all this is that God is constantly at work in our midst and that in Christ Jesus he has visited his people and invited us to a new way of life. Therefore, the warning against indifference and laziness in the Gospel is forever timely.  

So, this time we have called Advent is the moment to wake up and reflect on the mission Jesus has given to all of us and to slow down a bit rather than be frenetic about all the stuff of Christmas. To be missionary disciples in the world is our invitation so when he comes among us again we are ready to welcome him.

While we transform our homes we can shine the light of good works to bring joy, the ornaments of prayer should be hung on our days this December and the tinsel of patience can shimmer as we slow down a bit and take time to reflect on who has fulfilled the hope of Isaiah and how we can play a role in making that seen in our world. 

Christ is among us in our celebration of the Eucharist.  Grab this season of longing and hope. May we transform ourselves in his light so that the coming celebration of God’s personal intervention in human history will be different than last year. 

"Let us then throw off the works of darkness
and put on the armor of light;
let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day . . ."

(From the Second Reading: Rm 13: 11-14)