The latest in my continuing attempt to write a homily on each week’s readings. Today at mass we had a visiting priest who talked about Advent as a season of hope, tying it in to the beginning of the Year of Mercy next week. I touch on hope, but my thinking went in a very different direction.
Today we begin the season of Advent, the beginning of the Church’s liturgical year. Often we view Advent as a period of preparation for Christmas. Certainly, the secular calendar, beginning with Black Friday, is now counting down to Christmas. This countdown is grounded in our faith and it makes a great deal of sense: the four weeks of Advent end at Christmas, and the prayers and readings point us towards the Incarnation. In today’s first reading the Prophet Jeremiah offers consolation to the people of Israel who were in exile after the sack of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. All the promises made to their ancestors had turned into ruin and destruction. Jeremiah, however, assures them that God’s promise still holds: though the powers of heaven itself seem shaken, God will prevail. In time God himself will restore Israel, and He will raise up a king from David’s lineage to rule His people with justice. As Christians we see this prophecy fulfilled in the birth of Jesus almost 600 years later. Jesus is the promised king.
But when we turn to the second reading from Paul and to the Gospel, we see that the focus is no longer on the birth of Jesus, but rather on his second coming in glory at the end of time. Just as the liturgical year ended last week with the Feast of Christ the King, the liturgical year begins today by focusing our attention on the end times. We are, as individuals and as a Church, balanced between these two poles. Christ came into the world some 2000 years ago: he was born of the Virgin, he was crucified, died and buried. By his resurrection he sealed a promise that death would have no more power over us. But we still die: the fullness of this promise will only be revealed when the Son of Man comes on a cloud with great power and glory, and all things are made new. We are on a journey whose end we cannot see clearly, and whose time we do not know. But our faith in the resurrection tells us that this end is sure. As we pray after the Our Father, “we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ.”
Advent then, is a time to remember that we are a pilgrim people, a people on a journey. It is a time to pause and remember where we have come from and where we are going. In the Gospel Jesus cautions us that we are to be vigilant, to avoid running away from the cares of this world in “carousing and drunkenness” while at the same time not letting ourselves be consumed with anxiety over them. Pay attention to the world, and the many problems it has: war, violence, poverty, bigotry, pollution. But do not be afraid! In solidarity with one another, and with all men and women of good will, we can face these problems and overcome them. I urge you, during the four weeks of Advent, to look around yourself and see the world. Do not look at in in fear as the world sees it. Look at it with the eyes of Christ and respond. Walk in the paths of God’s truth. Give money, give time, give of yourselves. Forgive a wrong done to you, help a stranger in need, work for justice. In some way large or small, begin to make more of a difference in the world. In this way you will be ready on that final day, whenever it comes, to stand tall before the Son of Man.
This is hard. We are busy and the cares of daily life—of work and family—are real. That is why Jesus urges us to pray for the strength to face these “tribulations”. We cannot face them on our own without burning out: we need God’s help to overcome them. He will provide this help, this strength, out of his love and mercy. Pray for strength, and it will be given to us, as St. Paul tells us, as an abundant love for one another and for all men and women. This Advent, open your hearts more fully to God’s love. Prepare to celebrate Christmas, when God showed his love for us by sending his Son into the world. He offered his Son for our salvation, and in every mass he offers his Son to us again in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Here, in the sacrament of love, we can find the strength we need to love one another. This is the source of strength for our journey home to the Father.