Homily, Advent Sunday 1A
Very rarely do I ever listen to the radio in my car, and as the staff here can attest, I very rarely even use my car, but on Friday, I was with my sisters, and against my better judgment, we were on the road on Black Friday, and I was disappointed to find that on the day after Thanksgiving, almost every radio station seemed to be playing Christmas music already. Hearing Christmas music before Christmas is not necessarily a problem, but it can make it more difficult for us to really appreciate and enter into the liturgical season that we begin today, the season of Advent.
Advent was the last liturgical season to develop in the Church’s history, as a penitential season in preparation for the joy of Christmas, just as Lent is meant to prepare us for Easter. The name Advent simply means ‘coming,’ and the season focuses on three moments when Christ comes to us. As we begin Advent, and for the next few weeks as reflected in our readings at Mass, the focus is on the Second Coming of Christ at the end of the world and the judgment that each of us will face at the end of our lives. Only towards the end of Advent, on December 17, does the focus shift to Christ’s First Coming into our world, as a baby in Bethlehem. The First Coming of Christ in weakness at the First Christmas was in the past, and the Second Coming of Christ in power and glory will be in the future. The third moment that Christ comes to us is in the present, today, through grace and the Sacraments. God’s work in our world and history is not just a thing of the past or of the future, but God wants to transform us today, and in every present moment through the coming of His Messiah into our lives.
Now because Advent focuses on the fulfillment of God’s promises, His promises to the people of Israel, Christ’s promise to return at the end of time, and His promise to give us new life here and now, the virtue of the season of Advent is hope. Christian hope desires and obtains what God promises to give, and God especially wants to give Himself to us, in this Eucharist and in the communion of prayer. Most people are familiar with the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and most Catholics try to give up something or do something special for the season of Lent, but do we ever do something special for the season of Advent, to exercise our hope and to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ?
During Advent, the focus is not so much on fasting or almsgiving, but we are called to “Stay awake!” to keep watch and to pray. So a very appropriate practice for Advent is to keep vigil, to spend some extra time in prayer and in silence, especially in the darkness of night or early morning. We observe in nature, at least in the northern hemisphere, that this is the darkest time of the year with the shortest days of sunlight. True Christian hope waits even in the darkness for the dawning of the Light of Christ. In nature, this is also the most quiet time of the year. All creation waits with us in silence for its renewal in Christ Jesus. During this season of Advent, we might make more of an effort to shut off the radio and the mp3s, to shut off the TVs and the Netflix to make more time for silence and prayer, for waiting and watching with patience and hope for the Advent of Christ our Savior.
How often do we really think about heaven, and let ourselves desire with eager longing the coming of God’s kingdom? The end of the world and the Second Coming of Christ should only be scary for those of us who are too caught up in the busyness of this passing world. Something for us to consider today is whether we look forward to the end of the world with hope or with fear, and if it is with fear, how might God be inviting us to change and to be transformed, so that our outlook can be transformed by Christian hope? Please do what you can to make this Advent season special, to make it an opportunity to step back from the busyness of the world, to wait and watch in darkness and in silence for the coming of Christ into every moment of our daily lives. Stay awake! Keep watch and pray!