Homily, 1st Sunday of Advent, Cycle B 2011
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., Pastor, Saint Joseph's, Dalton GA
While our culture has already begun the “Christmas season” with shopping, shopping, Christmas music, shopping, shopping, Christmas decorations and food, the Church celebrates Advent, a time of expectation and hope. We are awaiting the celebration of the birth of our Savior, and so we prepare ourselves accordingly. I suppose this attitude of expectation is present in our secular celebrations of Christmas, as we know, our children are anxiously awaiting that morning they can open their presents. But as adults, we should channel that same enthusiasm into celebrating Christ's first coming as a child in Bethlehem, and waiting in joyful hope for his Second Coming in glory.
The catechism says this about Advent, “when the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present the ancient expectation of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming.” (CCC 524) We pray with Isaiah in the first reading, “Return for the sake of your servants... the tribes of your heritage.
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down...”
The glory of his first coming should remind us that God is true to his promises. The entire history of Israel was a preparation for the coming of the Messiah, announced by all the prophets. And the Father fulfilled his word by sending his only Son on that Christmas day. And if he was true to his promises then, he will be true to ones he has made, for he will come again in glory at the end of time.
As St. Cryril put it, “His first coming was hidden, in a stable in a small town outside Jerusalem. His future coming will be for all to see as he comes with the Heavenly Jerusalem. At his first coming, he was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger, at his second, he will be clothed in light as in a garment. In his first coming, he endured his Passion, despite its shame, enduring the mockery and humiliation by the soldiers; in the second, he will come in glory, escorted by an army of angels.” (Office of Readings, 1st Sunday of Advent)
When he came the first time, he sought to teach us his way of love by gentle persuasion, so that we would freely choose him; but when he comes again, the time for learning and choosing and growing will be complete.
Our Lord says in today's Gospel, “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come... May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: 'Watch!'”
Saint Augustine comments on this passage, wondering if the Lord's Second Coming is something to be feared: “'My brethren, the appointed time is short... But I wish you to be without anxiety' [as Saint Paul says]. He who is without anxiety waits without fear until his Lord comes. For what sort of love of Christ is it to fear his coming? Brothers, do we not have to blush for shame? We love him, yet we fear his coming. Are we really certain that we love him? Or do we love our sins more? Therefore let us hate our sins and love him who will exact punishment for them. He will come whether we wish it or not. Do not think that because he is not coming just now, he will not come at all. He will come, you know not when; and provided he finds you prepared, your ignorance of the time of his coming will not be held against you.” (OOR, 33rd Sunday)
That's why Isaiah prays, “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!”
So, if we are to be prepared for his second coming, we must invite him into our lives today. Perhaps some of us will live to see that glorious day, but all of us, without doubt will meet him face to face in the silence of death, and that meeting is something we should prepare for every day. And how do we do this? Well that’s why in Advent we where purple: because it has a penitential character. If we are to prepare for the coming of our Lord, the traditional way is to do penance, and Scripture offers three ways, which Jesus himself taught in the Sermon on the Mount: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
By prayer, we get to know the Lord so that when we meet him, he won’t be a stranger, but someone we long to see face to face. By fasting, we imitate our Lord Passion, by voluntarily making acts of sacrifice and self-denial. To show that our hope is in heaven, not in things of this earth. And by almsgiving, we give of ourselves for the sake of others in reparation for sin, for as Scripture says, “love covers a multitude of sins.”
Early in my priesthood, one of my mom's best friends died... I celebrated her funeral fifteen years ago today right before Thanksgiving. She was diagnosed with cancer before my father was, and the two of them struggled with it together for a long time. Well, on a Saturday night after the joy of a wedding, I had a chance to visit her and her family a few hours before she died. We all gathered around and prayed together, laughed a bit and cried a bit. And then the husband says to me: “Paul, remind me to give you a present that Ann bought for your new niece.” And I was amazed, for here she was, struggling with cancer for over two years, and in the final days of her life, all she could think of was giving of herself to others. And she lived her whole life that way: they used to say of her, “You can’t out-nice her.”
One of the oncology nurses at the hospital, who has certainly seen a lot of people die, remarked that she had rarely seen so much love around a woman, that she must have been a remarkable person. And she summed it up very simply by saying, “people die like they live.” And my friend died surrounded by the love she had so freely given all those years.
My friend was prepared because she was prepared every day. By living the Gospel command to be watchful and ready, to prepare through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, she was prepared when her final moment came. What have you done today to prepare for Jesus’ coming. Have you prayed? Have you made acts of sacrifice and self-denial? Have you given of yourselves to others? Have you made a good confession?
If we trust in the Lord and live in joyful hope of his Coming in Glory, then that day, whether it be at the end of time or at the moment of death, will be a time of rejoicing. For, as Saint Paul says, “God is faithful... He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
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