Sunday, November 29, 2015

Homily for 1st Sunday of Advent

Homily for the

1st Sunday of Advent

Nov. 29, 2015

Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36

Church of the Magdalene, Pocantico Hills, N.Y.

“They will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  When these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand” (Luke 21: 27-28).

With the 1st Sunday of Advent, we begin a new church year and a new cycle of Scripture readings.  In this cycle, labeled the C Cycle in the lectionary, we’ll read from the Gospel of St. Luke on Sundays of Advent, Ordinary Time, and Lent.

The 1st part of this season looks toward the 2d coming of Christ—a coming to which you won’t hear any reference on the radio nor see any in the stores.  In the 2d part of the season our focus will shift toward remembering Christ’s 1st coming, the historical one at Bethlehem thru his incarnation and birth.  Thruout the season we’re challenged to prepare for Christ’s coming to us personally thru grace, thru mercy, thru forgiveness, thru a loving friendship, thru the strength and courage of renew our commitment to him and to walk in his ways.

It’s that last form of Christ’s coming that St. Paul speaks of in our 2d reading today when he prays that our hearts be strengthened and that we be found blameless before God—and then he refers to “the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones” (1 Thess 3:13), which means his coming at the end of time as judge of the living and the dead, his 2d coming.

Last Judgment (Van Eyck)
I’m sure we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about Christ’s 2d coming, in spite of its being referred to at every Mass.  When we recite the Creed, we profess our belief that “he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”  In the Missal we used to use, the most commonly used memorial acclamation after the consecration was “Christ has died; Christ has risen; Christ will come again.”  Two of the 3 acclamations that we may use now refer to his coming again.  In the prayer that the priest says after the Our Father, we say that “we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”  When we pray in the Our Father to be delivered from temptation, we’re actually praying, according to the translation of our Catholic Bible, not to be subjected “to the final test,” namely “the tribulations” that the Bible associates with the end of time, the sorts of tribulations that Luke mentions in the gospel reading today.

The particular, literal signs that Luke mentions really don’t need to concern us.  There’s really nothing new about signs in the heavens—meteors, eclipses, alignments of the stars, etc.; nor about “the roaring of the sea and waves” in great storms or tsunamis, nor about earthquakes, famines, wars, and other disasters that some gospel passages mention.  These aren’t the signs of the approaching end of history and Christ’s return.  Unfortunately, disasters both natural and human-caused are all around us regularly and always have been.

And those signs remind us that our life in this world is fragile.  Our history as a human race and as individuals is a brief one.  Therefore Jesus advises us to “be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36).  The tribulations that we face every day are our daily tests of our readiness to see Jesus—daily tests that we face in our family lives, our work lives, our use of our free time; daily tests that we face as a nation when we shape national and state policies that concern life and death, war and peace, immigration and refugees, health care, education, etc.  How do we bring our faith to bear in our words and actions every day, so that we may be able “to stand before the Son of Man” and not quail and cower when we meet him?

In fact, Jesus exhorts us to “stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”  If we’ve done our best to walk with him, to follow his teachings in our words and actions; if we’re confident that he’s our merciful Savior and we put our trust in him—why wouldn’t we run eagerly to meet him, or at least to “stand erect,” to stand and wait hopefully for him to greet us, as he says in one of his parables, as his “good and faithful servants”?  The Collect of today’s Mass—what we used to call the “opening prayer”—prays that God our Father grant us “the resolve to run forth to meet Christ with righteous deeds.”

So during this Advent season we might examine ourselves, our relationship with Jesus our Lord, whether we are “conducting ourselves to please God,” as Paul says today (1 Thess 4:1), and resolve to change something in our conduct that might embarrass us on the Day of the Lord.  We might also thank God for having given us Jesus as our Savior; and thank him for some particular virtue that we do practice faithfully—perhaps our loyalty to our spouse, our diligence at work, our honesty in our dealings with others, our regularity at prayer, the way we’ve handled some recent challenge that tested our patience.

May God bless you!

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