Advent 1 Sunday A - Homilies and Stories

Introductory stories and prayers:

Christ May Be Closer Than You Know

Martin, the Cobbler, is Leo Tolstoy's story about a lonely shoemaker who is promised in a dream that Christ will come to visit his shop. The next day Martin rises early, gets his shop ready, prepares a meal and waits. The only one who showed up in the morning was an old beggar who came by and asked for rest. Martin gave him a room he had prepared for his divine guest. The only one to show up in the afternoon was an old lady with a heavy load of wood. She was hungry and asks for food. He gave her the food he had prepared for his divine guest. As evening came, a lost boy wandered by. Martin took him home, afraid all the while he would miss the Christ. That night in his prayers he asks the Lord, "Where were You? I waited all day for You."

The Lord said to Martin:
"Three times I came to your friendly door,
Three times my shadow was on your floor.
I was a beggar with bruised feet.
I was the woman you gave to eat.
I was the homeless child on the street."

Watch out! Christ may be closer than you can imagine.

J. Howard Olds, adapted from Leo Tolstoy's Where Love Is, God Is, Faith Breaks,
www.Sermons.com

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A basic ingredient in the attainment of freedom: adversity that brings awareness. A traveller lost in the desert despaired of ever finding water. He struggled up one hilltop, then another and another in the hope of sighting a stream somewhere. He kept looking in every direction with no success.

As he staggered onwards his foot caught on a dry bush and he stumbled to the ground. That’s where he laid, with no energy even to rise, no desire to struggle any more, no hope of surviving this ordeal.

As he lay there, helpless and dejected, he suddenly became aware of the silence of

the desert. On all sides a majestic stillness reigned, undisturbed by the

slightest sound. Suddenly he raised his head. He had heard something. Something so faint that only the sharpest ear and the deepest silence would lead to its detection: the sound of running water.

Heartened by the hope that the sound aroused in him, he rose and kept moving till he arrived at a stream of fresh, cool water.
 
(Prayer of the Frog, Tony De Mello, sj)
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From the poem entitled, “Silent Steps” by Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore:

Have you not heard his silent steps?
He comes, comes, ever comes.
Every moment and every age,
every day and every night he comes, comes, ever comes.
Many a song have I sung in many a mood of mind,
but all their notes have always proclaimed,
`He comes, comes, ever comes.’
In the fragrant days of sunny April through the forest path he comes,
comes, ever comes.
In the rainy gloom of July nights on the thundering chariot of clouds
he comes, comes, ever comes.
In sorrow after sorrow it is his steps that press upon my heart,
and it is the golden touch of his feet that makes my joy to shine (Gitanjali, XLV).


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Thomas O’Loughlin,
Introduction
 

Sisters and brothers, today is the first day of the season of Advent. In four weeks’ time we will celebrate Christmas and the coming of the Son of God among us as our prophet, our priest, and our king. But to know who Jesus is, we must recall the faith of the people who looked out for him, we must look to the writings of the Old Testament to see what they say about the promise of God to visit his people — and during these coming weeks we will read much from the prophet Isaiah; we must recall those who prepared the way for his coming — and we will recall the work of John the Baptist; and we will reflect on how the Christ comes to birth in our world through our faith and discipleship — and we will remember Mary whose faith and acceptance of the invitation of God inaugurated the whole Christian era. Let us stop and in silence note that this moment is an important turning point in our year.
The liturgy of today directs our minds to the Last Day, to the Second Coming of Christ, to the Day of Judgement. We look at this not as individuals, but as a qreat gathering of all peoples. The suddenness of the coming of the Lord may make uslear, but we should look forward in joy — rejoice when we hear them say ‘Let us go to God’s house’. St Paul tells us how to live in the meantime: be fully awake and cost off the works of darkness.

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Michel de Verteuil
General comments

The passage comprises several teachings of Jesus, all on the general theme of waiting. However, each teaching forms a unit on its own, so begin by identifying which section you want to meditate on.

Textual comments

Verses 37 to 39 describe what happens ‘when the Son of Man comes’, the story of the Flood being the model. Make sure you get the precise point of the teaching. It is not that the people were bad or immoral – that is not the point Jesus is making. He is stressing only the suddenness and unexpectedness of the coming.

Verses 40 and 41 are another description of the coming but the point here is quite different: it is the indiscriminate way in which some are taken and some left. Be creative in interpreting the meaning of ‘taken’ and ‘left’, starting of course from your experience.

Verses 42 and 44 are two exhortations of Jesus; they are nearly identical although the metaphor in each is slightly different – ‘stay awake’ in vs. 42 and ‘stand ready’ in vs. 44. The stress is slightly different in each too, ‘you do not know’ in vs. 42 and ‘an hour you do not expect’ in vs. 44. In your meditation be faithful to the exact text.

Verse 43 is a parable which you should take on its own. Enter into the parable as it stands, in particular the metaphor of the burglar who breaks through the wall of the house. Your meditation will help you feel for this image of God’s unexpected coming.

John Litteton
Reflection

Christmas begins earlier every year in the secular world. Many shops and businesses compete to have the first and the biggest display of Christmas lights and decorations. Advertisements for Christmas toys commence in October. People are posting Christmas cards before the end of November and children are taken to visit Santa Claus early in December. Therefore, it is not surprising that some people feel that Christmas is an anticlimax because it has ended almost before it has begun.

In the Christian context however, and especially in the liturgical year, Christmas does not begin until 25 December and it is preceded by several weeks of waiting and preparation during the season of Advent. Our focus in Advent is on waiting in hope for the fulfilment of God’s promise to send the Messiah and on preparing for the Second Coming of Christ on the Last Day when all the nations will be assembled before him.

Our Christian hope is incomplete without this understanding of Advent. Advent is not just about preparing to commemorate the birth of the baby Jesus. Crucially, it is a time of spiritual preparation for welcoming Christ into our lives at Christmas, but also a time of preparation for the last judgement. Basically, during Advent the Church invites us not to be lured into a false sense of Christmas that is unrelated to the real meaning of Christmas, which is the Incarnation, that is, God becoming human in the person of Jesus, and to Christ’s Second Coming. The season of Advent begins today.
Advent is the great season of hope in the Church’s liturgical year. Thus we are challenged to be hope-filled people awaiting the Lord’s coming into our lives and into the world. However, there is an important difference between the secular and Christian understandings of hope.

The secular sense of hope, which is most accurately expressed as wishful thinking, lacks surety or certainty. To be hopeful in the secular sense is to articulate a desire or a wish that may or may not be realised. For example, when we say, ‘We hope that our business will not become bankrupt’, our wish is for success in business but we cannot be certain that there will be success.

In sharp contrast, Christian hope is a virtue and it expresses certainty based on God’s promise to be faithful to us in all circumstances. For instance, when we say, ‘We hope in the resurrection of the dead’, we are not simply engaging in wishful thinking. We are articulating and communicating a certainty that is based on our faith.

Jesus told his disciples: ‘You too must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect’ (Mt 24:44). He says the same to each one of us. In doing so, he exhorts us to make this particular Advent the beginning of a lifelong Advent — a lifetime of waiting in Christian hope for the Lord’s Second Coming, whenever that will be, while undergoing conversion from sin to living in God’s presence.

We hope for the Lord’s coming. This means that, as Christians, we are sure that he is coming. There is no doubt. The season of Advent provides us with an annual opportunity to deepen our waiting in hope for the realisation of God’s saving promise in Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. 
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Homily notes

1. The time we are now entering is for most people ‘the run up to Christmas’. It is that for us too, but it also has a far more serious side. To say that ‘The Lord is coming’ or to pray ‘Come Lord Jesus’ (maranatha) is part of the most basic Christian confession of faith: we are a people who are looking forward, who believe we are on a journey, a pilgrimage, towards a destination. This destination is an encounter with the Lord, and it is variously described as ‘the Second Coming’, the time of ‘the return of the Son of Man’, when he ‘comes again to judge the living and the dead’, of ‘the Day of the Lord’. Indeed, we believe this journey toward the Day of the Lord is something that responds to a most basic instinct implanted within our humanity by the Creator: ‘You [0 God] have made us for yourself and our hearts are disquieted until they rest in You’ (St Augustine, Confessiones 1,1,1). And, it is the Christian confession that we encounter God in his Christ. So part of our reflection in Advent is on the end-times and our encounter with the Lord when he comes again. So, in short, we are a people looking forward to the Day of the Lord’s Second Coming. And this is the time of year when our cycle of ritual puts these thoughts, as in today’s gospel, before us.

2. To declare that we are waiting for when Christ ‘will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead’ (the creed), tells us nothing about the nature of the final judgment.

3. Since the first generation of Christians there has been a core belief that the time the people of Israel spent waiting for the coming of the promised Messiah is structurally similar to the time Christians spend waiting for the return of the Lord. Israel waiting for the first coming parallels the church waiting for the second coming. It is this logic of antetype and type that explains why we recall the waiting for the Christ in the first readings during Advent; while we then read about the Second Coming in the gospel readings in Advent. The common element between Israel and the church is that of waiting on the Christ to come; the difference is that Israel was waiting for the first coming, the church is waiting for the last coming. What Isaiah expected the Day of the Lord to be like is what we read in the first reading. ‘He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.’

4. If we want to know what the judgement will be like at the Second Coming, we look to the message of the Christ in his first coming. Many then thought that the Day of the Lord would be the ‘great crunch’ — a warrior messiah that would dole out vengeance and wrath. Instead the Lord came as the re-builder of Israel, the one who brought healing, who called disciples to love God and neighbour, and established reconciliation with the Father. This is the nature of the judgement we now wait for and proclaim. With truth we can call this, amidst the panics and fears that are always said to be on the horizon of the future, the good news. The Day of the Lord is not the ‘great crunch’, but the day of peace: ‘He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.’

1. The time we are now entering is for most people ‘the run up to Christmas’. It is that for us too, but it also has a far more serious side. To say that ‘The Lord is coming’ or to pray ‘Come Lord Jesus’ (maranatha) is part of the most basic Christian confession of faith: we are a people who are look­ing forward, who believe we are on a journey, a pilgrimage, towards a destination. This destination is an encounter with the Lord, and it is variously described as ‘the Second Coming’, the time of ‘the return of the Son of Man’, when he ‘comes again to judge the living and the dead’, of ‘the Day of the Lord’. Indeed, we believe this journey toward the Day of the Lord is something that responds to a most basic instinct implanted within our humanity by the Creator: ‘You [0 God] have made us for yourself and our hearts are disquieted until they rest in You’ (St Augustine, Confessiones 1,1,1). And, it is the Christian confession that we encounter God in his Christ. So part of our reflection in Advent is on the end-times and our encounter with the Lord when he comes again. So, in short, we are a people looking forward to the Day of the Lord’s Second Coming. And this is the time of year when our cycle of ritual puts these thoughts, as in today’s gospel, before us.

2. To declare that we are waiting for when Christ ‘will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead’ (the creed), tells us nothing about the nature of the final judgment.

3. Since the first generation of Christians there has been a core belief that the time the people of Israel spent waiting for the coming of the promised Messiah is structurally similar to the time Christians spend waiting for the return of the Lord. Israel waiting for the first coming parallels the church wait­ing for the second coming. It is this logic of antetype and type that explains why we recall the waiting for the Christ in the first readings during Advent; while we then read about the Second Coming in the gospel readings in Advent. The com­mon element between Israel and the church is that of waiting on the Christ to come; the difference is that Israel was wait­ing for the first coming, the church is waiting for the last coming. What Isaiah expected the Day of the Lord to be like is what we read in the first reading. ‘He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.’

4. If we want to know what the judgement will be like at the Second Coming, we look to the message of the Christ in his first coming. Many then thought that the Day of the Lord would be the ‘great crunch’, a warrior messiah that would dole out vengeance and wrath. Instead the Lord came as the re-builder of Israel, the one who brought healing, who called disciples to love God and neighbour, and established recon­ciliation with the Father. This is the nature of the judgement we now wait for and proclaim. With truth we can call this, amidst the panics and fears that are always said to be on the horizon of the future, the good news. The Day of the Lord is not the ‘great crunch’, but the day of peace: ‘He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.’

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 Scripture Prayers 

Lord, we remember a time in our lives when disaster struck:
- we lost what seemed a secure job;
- we were betrayed by a spouse or a friend;
- we fell again into an evil habit we thought we had finished with;
- there was a sudden death in the family.
We were like people in the days before the Flood
– eating, drinking, taking wives, taking husbands,
right up to the day when Noah went into the ark.
We too suspected nothing till this terrible flood came and swept all away.
We recognise now that it was a coming of the Son of Man,
a moment when you showed us how vulnerable we are,
but also when we felt your presence with us.

Lord, it is strange how life turns out.
We remember when we were starting on our careers,
with members of our family, our friends at school.
Today, years after, some of us have done well and others have not
– in marriage, at work, in health, in spiritual growth.
Much of it was chance.
How true it is that in life two men are working the fields,
one is taken and one left; of two women at the millstone grinding,
one is taken and the other is left.
Lord, into your hands we commend ourselves.

“There must be no passing of premature judgement. Leave that until the Lord comes. He will light up all that is hidden in the dark and reveal the secret intentions of our hearts.”   1 Cor 4:5
Lord, forgive us, church people, that we usurp your authority,
presuming to pass judgement on who is fit to enter your kingdom,
as if we could look at two men working in the fields
and decide which will be taken and which one left,
or two women at the millstone grinding
and decide which will be taken and which one left.

Lord, things were going well in our church community.
We thought that we had everything under control.
Then one day trouble appeared again and the community was torn apart.
You had sent us Jesus to teach us that we must stay awake,
like a householder who knows that there are burglars
 always hovering around and they can break through the wall of his house
at any moment.

“Nobody said that the search for a lasting peace, a peace that is based on justice,  would be easy, but that does not mean that we should not go on trying.”   Bishop Fortich of the Philippines
Lord, we pray today for those who are striving for peace
in countries that are torn by war.
Let them work with hope,
like people who know that at some hour they do not expect
the Son of Man will come.

“The quest for truth is an everlasting process from which civilised people never graduate.”  President Hassanali, Trinidad Divali, 1989

Lord, help us, in our search for truth, to stay awake,
never thinking that we are secure
because at any time we might find that our house has been broken into,
never despairing because you will show yourself at an hour we do not expect.

Lord, we thank you that when we were foolish, irresponsible or stubborn,
some people did not give up on us but stayed awake,
confident that we would return at an hour they did not expect.
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HOMILIES: 

1.     Fr John Speekman: 

It’s always a pleasure on this day, the first Sunday of Advent, to turn both the Missal and the Lectionary from the very last page back to the very first page, to begin the celebration of the paschal mystery all over again.

 Today is a Mass of beginnings. 

Firstly we begin a new liturgical year. There are three of them: Year A when we read the Gospel of Matthew; Year B when we read the Gospel of Mark; and Year C when we read the Gospel of Luke.

 Today we begin the three year cycle again from the very beginning - Year A – and, in another sense, we are also beginning the journey of the rest of our life. 

And so, from all the different areas of the parish, from many different walks of life, and from a great variety of human situations you and I have joined the long procession of Catholics who, throughout the world, have gathered in their own local church to celebrate these three new beginnings as disciples of Christ.

In this context the opening words of our celebration are especially significant. Hundreds of millions of Catholics will begin the Mass with these words: To you, my God, I lift my soul, I trust in you; let me never come to shame. Do not let my enemies laugh at me. No one who waits for you is ever put to shame. (Entrance Antiphon)

To you, my God, I lift my soul… 

What beautiful words! We gather for this new season of Advent and the first thing the Church asks us to do is to say together: To you, my God, I lift my soul. This is the essence and definition of prayer - raising my soul to God.

There seems to me a special significance in the fact that we were not asked to say this in a plural form today, that is: To you, our God, we lift our souls. I wonder if it was intentional? In any event, the use of the singular is very appropriate here. As the millions of believers gather to pray it is fitting that each one should address God in a personal way. 

Only I can lift my soul to God. It’s a very personal thing. You cannot lift my soul to God. You cannot trust God for me. Your wife or husband can pray for you at Mass but they cannot take your place before God.

 Interestingly, the revised Mass translation which will soon come into force makes the same point. We will no longer say: We believe in one God. We will return to the original Latin: I believe in one God. You cannot believe for me; I cannot believe for you. I have to believe for myself – as an individual. And we might add here, that even though we make the journey of Advent together, no one can make it for us. You have to make if for yourself; I have to make it for myself.

So let us continue with the Entrance Antiphon. Having lifted my soul to God I now tell him: I trust in you.

Of all the prayers we can say to God this surely must be one of the most pleasing; telling him that we trust him. Saint Faustina confirms this for us in her Diary when she writes that trust in God will unlock the door of his mercy. It was the signature Jesus wanted placed under the image of Divine Mercy - Jesus, I trust in you.

Recognising our own weakness, however, we acknowledge that it can cause us to come to grief and so we plead: let me never come to shame. Do not let my enemies laugh at me. Psalm 30 in verse 1 uses the even more humiliating expression ‘gloat’ over me. (Jerusalem Bible) 

And our enemies do laugh at us, they do gloat. That’s what enemies do, that’s their job, they can’t help it. And to the degree that they cause us to turn to God we should be grateful to them. 

The best kind of enemy to have is one who opposes you for the sake of the name of Christ; as we heard in our readings two weeks ago; You will be hated by all men on account of my name. Jesus then told us: Not a hair of your head will be lost, and that’s why we can pray with confidence, as in the conclusion of our Entrance Antiphon: No one who waits for you is ever put to shame. 

So our themes are clear. Advent will be for us, or should I just say, for me?
  1. A time for gathering with the Church for the Sunday Mass.
  2. A time of looking forward to and waiting for the coming of Christ.
  3. A time of prayer, of lifting my soul to God every day, as often as possible.
  4. A time of renewed trust.
  5. A time of faith, of knowing that no one who waits for God is ever put to shame.
2.     Fr. Ray E. Atwood

The desires of the flesh

Purpose: This Sunday’s readings focus on our preparation for the Lord’s return in glory. Like those who lived in Noah’s time, we do not know when the Lord will come again. The Christian must, therefore, prepare for that day every day. The psalmist calls us to rejoice in the Lord’s peace, while St. Paul encourages us to live honorably. Honorable living is dignified living, or a lifestyle that is consistent with the status of a person. Lust is clearly a dishonorable form of living. It leads to all sorts of other sins.

There’s a story about some shipwrecked men who drifted aimlessly in a lifeboat across a vast ocean. As the days passed under the scorching sun, their food and fresh water rations gradually give out. They become deliriously thirsty. One night, while the others were fast asleep, one man ignored the stern warnings he had been given and gulped down some salt water. He died soon afterwards. It is a fact that ocean water contains seven times more salt than the human body can safely ingest. When a person drinks it, he or she dehydrates quickly because the kidneys demand extra water to flush out the excess salt. The more salt water someone drinks, the thirstier he becomes. He can actually die of thirst.

Lust is a desperate thirst. It is a thirst for something we want but cannot have. It is a thirst that can kill God’s life within us. It is a thirst that can fill our lives with darkness and doom. It is a thirst that can destroy relationships we cherish. Many lives are ruined by lust, and technology has only made the problem worse. The Catechism calls lust a “disordered desire for, or inordinate enjoyment of, sexual pleasure” (CCC 2351). Notice that the word “disordered” is used. To be disordered means to be out of the natural order. The Church is not saying that sexual pleasure or desire in itself is sinful. It is a gift from God. The problem is when sexual desire becomes an end in and of itself, when it becomes detached from marriage and the gift of human life.

In the second reading, St. Paul uses a familiar image in describing sin and grace. He urges the Christians in Rome to cast off darkness and put on light. Like the sun in the sky, Jesus Christ dispels the darkness of the world. He continues to dispel darkness that remains in the souls of his faithful ones. Sin is darkness. It is the shadow of Satan. And if we’re honest, we’ll admit that there is darkness in our lives. At Baptism, we receive the light of Christ. Our soul is filled with God’s life and love. But Baptism is only the beginning of a lifelong journey. A Christian needs to keep living in the light, and throwing out the darkness of error and sin. Paul lists six sins of darkness. They are orgies, drunkenness, promiscuity, lust, rivalry, and jealousy. Half of those sins are sins of the flesh. They are sins of lust.

Whether you think of it as a “desperate thirst for pleasure” or an “expression of darkness,” lust is a serious sin with serious consequences. Our society is darkened by the shadow of lust. We see it expressed in so many ways. From the proliferation of pornographic web sites, to explicit sex education offered in public schools, to disgusting nudist magazines, and parades of erotic behavior; lust is all around us. Lust is a symptom of a deeper problem: the desire for affection, attention, love, and acceptance. Do you experience love and acceptance in your relationships? Is lust a problem for you? Fornication, prostitution, self-abuse, and sexual assault are some of the fruits of the poison of lust. Are you guilty of any of these sins?

The Scripture contains many stories of lust and its effects. After the Original Sin, Adam and Eve covered themselves, and struggled with their desires. The citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah felt the wrath of God for their sins of the flesh. David lusted for Bathsheba, and had a child out of wedlock. Dinah, the daughter whom Leah bore to Jacob, was sexually assaulted, and death followed. Two old men lusted after Susanna in the Book of Daniel, and suffered the consequences. The woman caught in adultery narrowly escaped the death penalty. St. John, in Revelation, compared Babylon to a great harlot. The Bible condemns the sin of lust. That’s because it is so harmful to us spiritually, emotionally, and sexually.

If lust is a desperate thirst or a dark spot in life, then the answer is clear. We need to fill up our lives with Christ. We need to dispel darkness with the light of the Savior. The readings we just heard are proclaimed on the First Sunday of Advent. Advent coincides with the natural rhythm of the season. The days are growing shorter and the nights are growing longer, until Christmas, when the days start to grow longer again. This natural phenomenon is a symbol of what we should do with our lives, which is to let the light of Christ fill us and drive out darkness.

How do we overcome the sin of lust? First, we need to recognize that it is a serious problem; if you don’t recognize the problem, you’ll never solve it. Second, we need to avoid the near occasions of the sin of lust. An old seminary professor put it this way: “If something is a near occasion of sin, don’t think about it. That only leads us to wanting it. If something is a near occasion of sin, don’t go near it. In other words, stay away from magazines, television programs, or Internet sites that lead to the sin. Finally, if something is a near occasion of sin, don’t touch it. In other words, don’t touch a dial or switch if it leads you to sin.” Third, we need to make a frequent Confession. The grace of Confession strengthens us in our battle against the sins of the flesh. Finally, we need to fast. Fasting is a lost discipline. Few Catholics fast outside of Lent. However, we are expected to do some form of penance every Friday of the year. We can choose our form of penance outside of Lent, but we are supposed to do something. Perhaps, we can offer our Friday abstinence from meat, desserts, or television. Whatever we offer should be in reparation for sins against the flesh. These are time-tested tools in our struggle with sin.

Advent is not just a time to fill empty Christmas stockings, but to fill empty hearts with the power of God’s love. We need to dispel the darkness of sin with the light of the Savior. As we enter the Advent Season, and await the Lord’s return in glory, let us strive to live honorably, casting off the darkness of lust, and rejoicing in the gift of human sexuality. May this Holy Season be a time of grace and renewal for each of us. Mary, Virgin Most Pure, pray for us. Amen. 

3.     From the Connections: 

THE WORD:

Today’s Advent Gospel is a “wake up” call:

  • Noah’s flood and the thief are signs that the Lord will return for those who have been faithfully waiting for his return.
  • Although Matthew is writing his Gospel for a Christian community who expected Christ’s return during their lifetimes, this Gospel can also be read as Jesus teaching us about the reality of our own deaths and being ready at every moment we are given to meet the Lord.
  • Jesus calls his Church and Christians of every place and time to be conscientious in the call to be prophets, confronting a “sleeping” world with the risks of losing its soul.
HOMILY POINTS:

These first days of Advent confront us with the reality that this life of ours is indeed limited, that the moments we are given in this experience of life are precious and few, that death is a reality that we all inevitably face.

Advent calls us to “stay awake” and not sleep through the opportunities life gives us to discover God and the things of God, to “watch,” to pay attention to the signs of God’s unmistakable presence in our lives.

Life is a constant Advent experience:  Our lives are Advents of waiting to be healed, waiting to make things better, waiting to complete and move on; the everyday Advents of our lives are filled with fear, doubt and struggle.  Our “Advents” our ultimately fulfilled in the coming of the Christ, who comes to dwell in our midst.

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ILLUSTRATIONS:

1.      Andrew Greeley: 

Background:

Advent is a time of warning, a time of preparation, a time of urgency. It is supposed to prepare for Christmas, but the Christmas of everyday life as much if not more than the festival of December 25. While the apocalyptic rhetoric of today's Gospel might not be the exact words of Jesus and while in any case that rhetoric was not meant to be taken literally, the urgency of the message is surely his. We must not slip into the routine of ordinary life and miss the opportunity of life itself.   

 Time and with it life slips through our fingers. Tomorrow never comes but ends up yesterday until there are few tomorrows left in our life and all too many yesterdays. It looked like forever and it was only a very short time, so little time. And so much waste, so many lost opportunities. Advent is a time of recalling opportunities lost in the past and taking steps to miss fewer opportunities in the days and weeks and years ahead, such as these may be.

Story:

Once upon a time there were two eighth grade girls,  Lois and Ella Mae, who were both sensational volley ball players. Lois was the captain of the team and the best player on the team. Ella Mae was co-captain and the second best player on the team. They were also “best friends” and were together all the time even when they weren’t playing volleyball. Ella Mae didn’t mind being second best and Lois didn’t think being best was all that big a deal. 

 There was one difference between them, however, and I bet you know what it is. I wouldn’t want to say that Lois was lazy exactly, but she was just a big deficient in the work ethic area, know what I mean? Ella Mae on the other hand was almost compulsively committed to practice. Hardest working player in the whole school, including the boy athletes. Lois used to tell herself – and everyone else who would listen to her – that Ella Mae had to work hard because she didn’t quite have all the talent at a co-captain ought to have. WELL, the team wom their section and their division, and their region. They were really good, Lois was the best spiker in the city and Ella Mae never gave up on what looked like a lost point. 

 Finally they came to the city championship against their traditional rivals, St. Adelbert. Ella Mae wanted to practice every day the week before. Lois said two days was enough. After all, there was more to being in eighth grade than volleyball. You know what happened? Sure you do. They lost to St A by one point because they were just a little bit out of condition. Don’t cry, Ellie, Lois said to her friend in the local ice cream store where they were eating pink pistachio peppermint ice cream. We’ll have lots of championship games in high school. BUT, Ella Mae sobbed, we’ll never have an eighth grade championship game again. 

2.      From Connections: 

“Stay awake!  For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.”
Matthew 24: 37-44

Here If You Need Me

Kate Braestrup is a chaplain with the Maine Warden Service, the men and women who conduct search-and-rescue missions in the deep woods and frozen ponds of northern Maine.  As chaplain, Kate has become an expert in waiting:  While wardens search, Kate holds families and friends of the lost together with warm-hearted common sense and modest prayer whether the crisis ends well or ill.  She writes about her work and what brought her to it in her book Here If You Need Me.

There is always hope as the search begins, Kate writes.  As they wait for news, families comfort themselves with memories of the missing loved one.  They are compelled to tell Kate and the wardens what a beautiful, wonderful parent or child or friend they are searching for.  For the wardens, the lost becomes their parent and child and friend, as well.

Before long, families become desperate to do something.  They ache for some resolution.  They want — they think they want — the truth.  A father took Kate aside, away from his distraught wife, and demanded to know the truth about his missing daughter.  What that father wanted to hear, Kate remembers, was not an objective assessment of the situation:  “He wants me to tell him, with all the weight and authority my presence conveys, that his daughter is not dead.”

After some time, families accept the reality that time is not on their side.  Kate’s role then becomes one of speaking hope — realistic, grounded hope despite the family’s agony and despair.  When the news is bad, Kate offers families comfort and provides a safe space for them to sort out their grief, anger and confusion.  Then Kate explains the legal and medical protocols and helps them through their first difficult decisions.

And Kate is there for the wardens, as well. It is never just a job for the wardens.  Cold weather, rain and sleet, murky water, deep snow are all shaken off as these dedicated professionals focus on their mission.  When the search ends tragically, Kate writes, the wardens “will go home, hold the warm, living bodies of their own children, and know all too well the risk they take by loving in such a precarious world.”

And when the news is good, when the lost are found and families are reunited, the job of the wardens and their chaplain is the best in the world.

As Kate Braestrup has learned, waiting is hard and miserable work — but waiting is often the beginning of miracles and everyone involved is changed forever.

As Kate Braestrup has learned, waiting is a wise teacher.  The experience of waiting reveals the presence of God in our midst; it enables us to realize what we appreciate, value and cherish; it teaches us how to be present and attentive to family and friends; it opens up our vision and spirits to realize the love of God in our midst.  In the middle of the busiest season of year, Advent calls us to embrace the wisdom of waiting: to slow down and see the goodness of God around us that we rush by too quickly to see, to behold Christ in every moment of compassion, forgiveness and joy we experience in the everyday Advent of our lives.    

3.      From Sermons: 

Today marks the beginning of the season of Advent, a time of preparation, a time of going toward the coming again of the Messiah, a time of great expectation and great anticipation. But exactly what is it that we anticipate? What are we getting ready for? What do we expect to happen? Do we anticipate the end of the world, as some religious cults always do at this time of the year? Are we preparing our hearts and spirits to receive again the coming the coming of the Christ child into the world? Or are we preparing for yet another month-long shopping spree that some have called "economic first-degree murder" - willfully and with malice aforethought murdering our bank accounts? Or maybe we're getting ready for the seven to ten pounds the average American will gain during the season (Lord, please let me be an underachiever this year!)? Or are we preparing for the suicidal traffic jams at the mall, or the general atmosphere of surliness and desperation? (A couple of years back I remember hearing on the local news in West Tennessee that shoppers were actually coming to blows for the right to buy a Holiday Barbie doll!) 

Are we getting ready for the depression, the anxiety, and even the rage that accompanies the secular holiday season? If we allow ourselves to get caught up in the consumer Christmas - and I firmly believe that we in America celebrate two separate events on December 25 - we can easily find that instead of preparing to sing "O Holy Night" we will find ourselves living out one holy nightmare... 
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 It is officially "count-down" time. The moment the red cranberry sauce is wiped off our chins and cleaned off the tablecloth, Black Friday starts. And on Black Friday comes the count-down of the diminishing days until Christmas. That tick-tock of passing time is supposed to induce us into a buying panic and jump-start our frenzied consumerism. It pretty much works. 

But the church has its own "countdown to Christmas." It is called "The Season of Advent." Instead of being a time of consumer manic panic, Advent is a time of preparation for the gift of a miraculous presence. This "preparation" is not about decking the halls or trimming the tree. This "preparation" is not about baking cookies or wrapping packages. This "preparation" is about a truth which comes into the world, not abstract pure and antiseptic clean, but cradled in dirt and mangered in mystery.

Advent is an alarm clock, a moment of truth to rouse out of the "get-by and keep-going" stupor of this world and WAKE UP!  

Wake up to the impending gift of a new beginning.
Wake up to the first baby steps of the Kingdom entering this world through a stable of animals and a cradle of straw.
Wake up from our dogmatic slumbers into the new light of life.

Wake up to the epiphany of Jesus in the world, and in us... 
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 The Warning and Promise of Advent

William Willimon tells the story of a funeral he attended when he was serving a small congregation in rural Georgia. One of his members' relatives died, so Willimon and his wife attended the funeral held in an off-brand, country Baptist church. He writes: "I had never seen anything like it. The preacher began to preach. He shouted; he flailed his arms. 'It's too late for Joe. He's dead. But it ain't too late for you. People drop dead every day. Why wait? Now is the day for decision. Give your life to Jesus.' "

Willimon goes on to suggest that this was the worst thing he had ever seen. He fumed and fussed at his wife Patsy, complaining that the preacher had done the worst thing possible for a grieving family - manipulating them with guilt and shame. Patsy agreed. But then she said: "Of course the worst part of it all is that what he said is true."

My friends, each one of us lives in the shadow of the apocalypse - the dark reality of the end of our time and the end of the world's time. That is the warning of Advent. But there is also good news. There is also the promise of Advent - the promise that in the darkness, in the shadows, in the unpredictable anxiety of our unfinished lives, God is present. God is in control, and God will come again. With each candle we light, the shadows recede a bit, and the promise comes closer. With each candle we light, we are proclaiming that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness will never overcome it. The promise is that wherever there is darkness and dread in our lives, wherever there is darkness and dread in the world around us, God is present to help us endure. God is in charge, and hope is alive. And as long and as interminable as the night seems, morning will come - in God's good time and God's good way.


Susan R. Andrews, The Offense of Grace, CSS Publishing Company 
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Christ May Be Closer Than You Know 

Martin, the Cobbler, is Leo Tolstoy's story about a lonely shoemaker who is promised in a dream that Christ will come to visit his shop. The next day Martin rises early, gets his shop ready, prepares a meal and waits. The only one who showed up in the morning was an old beggar who came by and asked for rest. Martin gave him a room he had prepared for his divine guest. The only one to show up in the afternoon was an old lady with a heavy load of wood. She was hungry and asks for food. He gave her the food he had prepared for his divine guest. As evening came, a lost boy wandered by. Martin took him home, afraid all the while he would miss the Christ. That night in his prayers he asks the Lord, "Where were You? I waited all day for You."

The Lord said to Martin:

"Three times I came to your friendly door,
Three times my shadow was on your floor.
I was a beggar with bruised feet.
I was the woman you gave to eat.
I was the homeless child on the street."

Watch out! Christ may be closer than you can imagine.

J. Howard Olds, adapted from Leo Tolstoy's Where Love Is, God Is, Faith Breaks, www.Sermons.com
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I Shall Not Rush  

Here is a version of the 23rd Psalm that ought to be mandatory reading each day of Advent, and a unison reading each Advent Sunday.  

The lord is my pace setter . . . I shall not rush
He makes me stop for quiet intervals
He provides me with images of stillness which restore my serenity
He leads me in the way of efficiency through calmness of mind and his guidance is peace
Even though I have a great many things to accomplish each day, I will not fret, for his presence is here
His timelessness, his all importance will keep me in balance
He prepares refreshment and renewal in the midst of my activity by anointing my mind with his oils of tranquility
My cup of joyous energy overflows
Truly harmony and effectiveness shall be the fruits of my hours for I shall walk in the Pace of my Lord and dwell in his house for ever.

A version of Psalm 23 from Japan, as reprinted in Mother Teresa, Life in the Spirit: Reflections, Meditations, Prayers, ed. Kathryn Spink (San Francisco, Harper & Row, 1983), 76-77.
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 Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition  

In Monty Python's sketch, "The Spanish Inquisition," a man is being questioned in a way that surprises him and he says, "Mr. Wentworth just told me to come in here and say that there was trouble at the mill, that's all - I didn't expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition." As if on cue, inquisitors burst into the room and one of them says, "NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise...surprise and fear...fear and surprise.... Our two weapons are fear and surprise...and ruthless efficiency.... Our three weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency...and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.... Our four...no... Amongst our weapons.... Amongst our weaponry...are such elements as fear, surprise.... I'll come in again." The inquisitors exit the scene to re-enter and begin the speech again.
Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. "If the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into" (Matthew 24:43). The Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.  

Mary Hinkle Shore, The Element of Surprise 
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 Prepared 

God asks no man whether he will accept life. That is not the choice. You must take it. The only choice is how. 

Henry Ward Beecher 
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 Humor: High Risk

 I remember seeing a cartoon depicting a church that had been built in close proximity to an active volcano. In the picture are the church, its sign - "The Church Next to the Active Volcano" - and two men standing in front of the church, one of whom is wearing a clergy shirt and appears to be speaking to the other man. The caption reads, "Of course, there is a high degree of risk being located here, but it lends a great sense of urgency to my preaching!"

Johnny Dean
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Foresight

Someone once asked Wayne Gretsky, the great hockey player, how he managed to become the best goal-scorer in the history of the game. He simply replied, "While everyone else is chasing the puck, I go where the puck is going to be."

Brett Blair, www.Sermons.com
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We've Done Everything Else 

"We have learned to soar through the air like birds, to swim through the seas like fish, to soar through space like comets. Now it is high time we learned to walk the earth as the children of our God." 

William Sloan Coffin 
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Redeemed, Redeemed, Redeemed!

 A.J. Gordon was the great Baptist pastor of the Clarendon Church in Boston, Massachusetts. One day he met a young boy in front of the sanctuary carrying a rusty cage in which several birds fluttered nervously. Gordon inquired, "Son, where did you get those birds?" The boy replied, "I trapped them out in the field." "What are you going to do with them?" "I'm going to play with them, and then I guess I'll just feed them to an old cat we have at home." When Gordon offered to buy them, the lad exclaimed, "Mister, you don't want them, they're just little old wild birds and can't sing very well." Gordon replied, "I'll give you $2 for the cage and the birds." "Okay, it's a deal, but you're making a bad bargain." The exchange was made and the boy went away whistling, happy with his shiny coins. Gordon walked around to the back of the church property, opened the door of the small wire coop, and let the struggling creatures soar into the blue.  

The next Sunday he took the empty cage into the pulpit and used it to illustrate his sermon about Christ's coming to seek and to save the lost -- paying for them with His own precious blood. "That boy told me the birds were not songsters," said Gordon, "but when I released them and they winged their way heavenward, it seemed to me they were singing, 'Redeemed, redeemed, redeemed!'" 

Brett Blair, Collected Sermons, Sermons.com  
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What Is Time?

 What is time? Who can easily and briefly explain this? Who can comprehend this, even in thought, so as to express it in a word? Yet what do we discuss more familiarly and knowingly in conversation than time? Surely, we understand it when we talk about it, and also understand it when we hear others talk about it. What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I want to explain it to someone who asks me, I do not know.

Augustine, Confessions, Book xi, Chapter 14 
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A New Kingdom Will Emerge 

In the Book of Genesis we find the story of Noah. There had been endless days on the ark... days of waiting and hoping. In every direction Noah could see only water. One day, in faith, he released a dove to search for land. The Bible says the dove "found no place to set her foot" and returned. Noah was put on hold. He had to wait. He waited with faith and in hope.

He sent out a dove a second time. It returned with a spring of freshly plucked olive leaf in its beak. Noah could not see the land, but he knew it was there. It began to appear out of the watery waste. The worst was over. As sure as God made little green apples, a new, green world would emerge out of the wreckage of the old...
 
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From Fr. Tony Kadavil's Collection:
 
1: Unheeded warning: Early Sunday morning, June 30, 1974, a hundred young people were dancing to the soul-rock music at Gulliver’s in Port Chester, on the border between New York and Connecticut. Suddenly the place was filled with flames and smoke. In a few minutes 24 were dead, burnt by fire, suffocated by smoke, and crushed in the exit passage by the escaping youngsters. According to the Mayor of Port Chester, the dancing crowd ignored the repeated and frantic warnings given by the band manager when he noticed the smoke. Today’s second reading tells us about the warnings given by St. Paul, and today’s Gospel gives the warning to be vigilant and prepared given by Jesus.
2: Doomsday paranoia: The Jehovah’s Witnesses frightened gullible followers at least 3 times during the last century with their “end of the world” predictions – in 1914, 1918 and 1974.  It was in 1978 that the media flashed the shocking news of the mass suicide of 914 men and women from the U.S.A. They belonged to a doomsday cult called the Peoples Temple, in Jonestown, Guyana and they committed suicide at the command of their paranoid leader, Rev. Warren (Jim) Jones. In 1988 Edgar Whisenant, a NASA engineer, used his mathematical skills to set a date for the return of Jesus. He wrote a book called, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Take Place in 1988. In the same year Rev. Colin Deal published a book titled Christ Returns By 1988 – 101 Reasons Why. A very popular book in 1989 was 89 Reasons Why the World will End in 1989. It was in 1995 that the landmark apocalyptic thriller novel, Left Behind, first of a series of 16 books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins (Left Behind, Tribulation Force, Nicolae, Soul Harvest, Apollyon, Assassins, The Indwelling, The Mark, Desecration, The Remnant, Armageddon, and Glorious Appearing + 4 new ones) began hitting Christian bookstores. Since then, over 62 million copies of the Left Behind series and its related books have been sold, generating $650 million. In October, 2005 a big-budget film, Left Behind, based on this novel series, was released and shown in all Evangelical Christian parishes. The film Omega Code, released in October 1999, was an independent movie funded by the Trinity Broadcasting Network, the largest Evangelical Christian TV network in the U.S. It was promoted by a team of 2,400 U.S. Evangelical pastors.  The plot involves a portrayal of the rapture, when “born again” and "saved" Christians, both alive and dead, are supposed to fly up in the air to meet Jesus on his Second Coming.  Omega Code was rated in the top 10 grossing movies for October 1999. This is how modern man reacts to the end of the world.  Today’s readings remind us that we should be well prepared and always ready  to meet Jesus at all times, either at the end of our lives or at the end of the world, whichever comes first, without getting panicky.