Sunday, November 29, 2009

Year C 1st Sunday of Advent

Readings: Readings: Jer. 33:14-16; Ps. 25:4-5.8-10.14; 1 Thess. 3:12-4:2; Luke 21:25-28.34-36

Today my friends we begin a new year of grace. The great season of Advent is upon us. If you’re already “doing” Christmas, it is time to slow down! Jesus is the reason for the season of Advent as well as for the season of Christmas. Our rush to bypass Advent and get right to Christmas is indicative of our desire to jump over life, skip experience, and land in God’s presence, instead of seeing our lives, what happens to us, as our way of realizing our destiny. “Christ does not save us from our humanity, but through it” (PP. Benedict XVI Christmas Urbi et Orbi 2006).

Our word Advent comes from the Latin advenio meaning “to come to.” So, the relationship of this season to the Paschal Mystery of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is fairly straightforward: during Advent we await the arrival of Jesus Christ. Our waiting is not an exercise in pretending that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem more than 2,000 year ago anymore than we observe Good Friday without being conscious of Christ’s resurrection. The arrival we are awaiting is his return in glory.

It is important that our waiting not merely be passive anticipation. Rather, it takes the form of active discipleship. The Christian way of life actively anticipates the Lord’s return and makes his continued presence among us by the power of the Holy Spirit incarnate. The vast majority of history is too often oversimplified as a long advent. On this view, the history of Israel is seen as nothing more than a preparation for the birth of Christ, just as the history of the church is taken as a long wait for his return in glory. However, it is important that we not reduce either of these two periods to merely long waits, lest we empty human history of the value of living. If nothing else, Advent teaches us the importance of history, of time.

Jesus did not abandon us when he ascended into heaven after his resurrection. Rather, "[r]ising from the dead He sent His life-giving Spirit upon His disciples and through Him… established His Body… the Church as the universal sacrament of salvation" (Lumen Gentium par. 48). The primary means through which the Holy Spirit makes Christ present among us are the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. It is the Holy Spirit’s active presence that makes the Eucharist more than merely a memorial, but makes Christ really present among us. We believe that "until there shall be new heavens and a new earth in which justice dwells, the pilgrim Church in her sacraments and institutions," along with the whole of creation "groan and travail in pain…" (par. 48). What we are living is not a promise yet to be fulfilled, but a down payment on what God has promised.

Jesus Christ is present in our assembly today in a number of ways. In turn, we are sent forth from here to make him present to and for the world. Hence, the most nonsensical question a Christian can ask is, "Where is the Lord?" If he is not in you my dear friends, you who, through your baptism, remaining close to him in the sacrament of penance, and your participation in this Eucharist are a member of his body, then where can he be? Faith in Christ Jesus is always far more incarnational than it is mystical. The Father only makes Christ present by the power of the Holy Spirit in our gifts of bread and wine in order for him to be present in you. Indeed, "[t]he mystery of life in Christ is that Christ can live you," but you have to let him in (Michael Card Live This Mystery).

In our reading today from the prophet Jeremiah we have a prophecy of the coming of one who, like David, will unite Israel and rule over her, a just ruler who will keep the promised land safe from invaders. Indeed, many in Jesus’ day failed to recognize him as the Messiah, as the shoot of David, precisely because, as we heard last week on Christ the King, his "kingdom does not belong to this world" (John 18:36). We make the same mistake when by receiving him we fail to understand that he wants to be present to us and through us to the world.

In his first letter to the Thessalonians, which is likely the first New Testament text written, St. Paul exhorts the community "to be blameless in holiness" in order to be prepared for "the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones" (1 Thess. 3:13). The reason Paul composed this letter is because members of that community had begun to die, but the Lord had not yet returned, which caused a lot of anxiety due to their belief in his imminent return. Hence, Paul is exhorting them to live in joyful expectation of that return, the date of which nobody knows, remaining vigilant and awake, by living the ordinary in an extraordinary way, abounding "in love for one another and for all" (1 Thess. 3:12).

In our Gospel today Jesus also exhorts his followers to live in anticipation of his return by remaining awake and alert. He warns against those things that distract us from the purpose of our lives, our new life in him. We are not to become drowsy and inattentive because we choose drunkenness and carousing, or the million other ways we trivialize life. Neither are we to be consumed by life’s inevitable and daily anxieties, which also amounts to making the wrong things the focus of our lives. This is why at Mass we pray “in your mercy…protect us from all anxiety…” Instead we are to remain vigilant and prayerful, but not out of fear, or even out of a misguided expectation that the Lord will return right away, or in 2012, but to live in a manner consistent with our reason for being.

My dear friends, confident that life in Christ is in its living, appropriate the liturgical year: set up, bless, and use an Advent wreath in your home, keep excess and indulgence at bay for a few more weeks, during this time between now and Christmas sing hymns of joyful expectation, fast, pray, confess your sins, be reconciled to others, and above all help those in need. Because faith in Christ is incarnational, the liturgy, made up of its cycle of seasons, deeply rooted in creation, is our primary work. It is how we sanctify time and how God sanctifies us. Liturgy is our active participation in the Paschal mystery, which is nothing less than participation in the very life of God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Only insofar as we live rooted in love and "blameless in holiness" do we make present the One "who is, who was, and who is to come" (Rev. 1:8). We are called to be his witnesses by living the tension between the already and the not yet, "as we wait in joyful hope" for his coming.


  1. Do you know the artist of the Anastasis (Harrowing of Hell) painting in your blog?

  2. Michael:

    I don't know who designed the mosaic featured in the photograph above. Since I posted this more than 3 years ago, I don't even remember the source from whence I obtained it.