Advent: Let us prepare for the glorious coming of Christ

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1st Sunday of Advent, Year C: Nov. 29, 2009
Jer 33:14-16; Ps 25:4-5, 8-10, 14; 1 Thess 3:12–4:2; Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

This is a season of preparation—because Someone is coming to town! And everybody is getting ready—one way or another.

It seems that everything changes at this time of year as everyone is anticipating and preparing. The music changes. Television programming changes. Advertising changes. Traffic changes, as everyone heads to the stores; well, everyone except the people from our parish, who got all our Christmas shopping done at the Bazaar, back at the beginning of the month! But everyone else is going shopping right now. Normal plans for evenings and weekends get set aside, and instead we go shopping and wrapping, cooking and baking and decorating, party-going and concert-going, driving miles and miles over the river and through the wood. And then in January we can drop into our chairs, our energy spent, our wallets spent, for a long winter’s nap, sitting on our empty wallets.

But Someone is coming to town. Is that the way to prepare for his arrival?

Children, of course, prepare differently from adults. They do not tire themselves out with endless projects; yet they are not bored in passive waiting. Instead, children are excited as they anticipate this arrival and prepare for it. Perhaps each day they tear off links in a paper chain to count down the days, or perhaps they open another little door in the calendar. They express their hearts’ desires in letters that they write to him—that is, to Santa Claus. They try very hard to behave well, to be not naughty but nice, so that they appear in the right part of that list the song says that Santa is making. Anticipating, communicating, repenting: this is how children prepare for the arrival of the man in the red suit, in the middle of the night, down the chimney with a bag of gifts.

Today we begin the season of Advent. The Latin “Adventus” means a coming, an approach, an arrival. My brothers and sisters, in this season of Advent, we proclaim that Someone is coming to town: Our Lord Jesus Christ, who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. But he will not come quietly, in the middle of the night, down a chimney; but, as he tells us in the gospel reading, everyone will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great gloryjust as lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other [Luke 17:24]. For, St. Paul tells us, the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed [1 Cor 15:52].

And what will our Lord bring with him? Far more than a bag of gifts slung over his shoulder: our Lord will bring the consummation of what we have most deeply longed for. He will bring the triumph of God’s justice over all the injustices committed by his creatures and against his creatures; and the triumph of God’s love over death [CCC 1040]. Our Lord will bring the New Heaven and New Earth, as described at the end of the Book of Revelation [21:1-5], in which God will dwell with the human race and we will be his people and God himself will always be with us. He will wipe every tear from our eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order will have passed away, and he will make all things new.

What will our Lord bring us when he comes again? When he comes, “peace on earth” will be not just what we sing but what we experience, what we live. On that day, there will be no more murder or war; no more oppression or hunger or want; no abuse; no more exploitation; no divorce, no abandonment, no broken promises. There will be no fears; no hatred; no addiction; no enslavement. There will be no goodbyes; no disease or sickness; no parts of the body that don’t work.

Right now, our culture is preparing with activities and celebrations over the next four weeks that will bring joy and love to those who take part; but often, we know, these will be mixed with disappointment, conflict, loneliness, exhaustion. But our Lord will bring no such mixture. The Second Vatican Council wrote [Gaudium et Spes, 39] that it will be a kingdom in which righteousness dwells, in which happiness will fill and surpass all the desires of peace arising in the hearts of men … “an eternal and universal kingdom: a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace.”

My brothers and sisters, this is good news! What we proclaim in Christ’s Second Coming—what we prepare for as we await his Advent, his arrival—is nothing less than the satisfaction of every human desire, the fulfillment of every human longing [phrase borrowed from Greek Orthodox Archbishop Demetrios]. And no matter what the commercials may tell you, you can’t buy that in stores. Only Jesus can bring this to us. Jesus tells us in the gospel, “when you see these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”

Unfortunately, we cannot give a date and time for his Advent. Mail-order catalogs may well say, “Here’s exactly what you need to do to get your package to arrive by December 25”; but we Catholics have been proclaiming for 2000 years with St. John, “Children, it is the last hour”! Just 300 years after St. John wrote this, St. Augustine commented [Homily 3 on the First Epistle of John], “This same last hour is long.” And “yet,” he continued, “it is the last.” Our Lord Jesus Christ could return 5 minutes from now, or 5 millennia from now. But he told us to “be vigilant at all times,” and he told several parables to illustrate the importance of being always prepared, always ready, for whenever he should arrive. There is the parable of the 10 virgins waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom; of the servants waiting for their master to return from his journey; of the master of the house not knowing when the thief was going to come and break in.

“Be vigilant at all times.” For our Lord will come to judge the living and the dead. He will judge each of us. And while he will say to some, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father: inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” he will say to others, “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Are we prepared to meet the Lord? Are we ready to face his judgment? Which of these statements will he say to us?

The season of Advent is a special time that the Church gives us each year to prepare ourselves for Christ’s Advent. Now, how do we do this? We know how children prepare for the arrival of the jolly man in red: through anticipating, communicating, and repenting. And we can prepare for Christ’s arrival in a similar way. How do we prepare for Christ’s return? I want to offer you three groups of suggestions that you may want to consider for this season, for yourself.

First, you can prepare through repentance. This is what John the Baptist preached again and again, to help people to prepare for Christ’s first coming; and St. Paul urges us in our second reading to be blameless in holiness at the coming of our Lord Jesus. Advent is a great opportunity to carefully examine our conscience and to make a good sacramental confession. In addition to the regular opportunities for confession that our parish offers every week—that is, on Saturday afternoon, by appointment, and after many weekday Masses—we will also have our annual parish Advent penance service, just a little over two weeks from now, on the evening of Tuesday, December 15.

The second group of suggestions is that you can prepare through acts of penance. Just as in Lent, we use the liturgical color of violet; and the traditional Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are very appropriate for Advent as well.

  • Regarding fasting, the Church does not currently require any special fasting or abstinence during Advent; but each of us may voluntarily choose to fast or abstain at different times.
  • Regarding almsgiving, you might bring gift cards for the poor on the next two weekends, or buy the gifts requested for children that are hung up on the Giving Tree. Both of these you can read about in the bulletin.
  • Regarding prayer, you might want to make time to attend Mass on some weekdays, spend time in Eucharistic Adoration, on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday in the chapel, or perhaps pray the rosary or the Liturgy of the Hours.

The third group of suggestions—after repentance and acts of penance—are different suggestions for how families can together observe Advent in a way that draws their attention toward preparing for Christ’s return.

  • Families can make or buy their own Advent wreath, like the one here in the sanctuary, and light it during meals and prayer time.
  • Families can read and reflect together on the readings for Mass each day. The Advent issue of The Word Among Us, which you will find in the Gathering Space, includes the readings for Mass as well as a meditation for every day of Advent.
  • Families might use an Advent calendar, or make a “Jesse tree,” on which you can hang special symbols of salvation history, one each day. You might set up the home manger scene, but leave Baby Jesus’ spot empty during Advent.
  • You might set aside certain evenings for praying the rosary together; or for singing songs of Advent, like “O Come O Come Emmanuel.”
  • Or you might do something charitable together as a family, such as visiting someone who is homebound.

All these ways, and many more, are possible ways that each of us can prepare ourselves for the Advent of that Divine Someone who is coming to town. His arrival will mean the satisfaction of every human desire, the fulfillment of every human longing. And who knows what increase in wisdom or strength, what healing or freeing, he may be waiting to give you, in this very Advent, as you truly enter into it. In the words of St. Paul: May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

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Two songs that I listened to while preparing this homily were “And I Saw a New Heaven,” by Edgar Bainton, which is an unforgettably moving setting of Rev 21:1-4; and “What Sweeter Music,” a setting of words by Robert Herrick, by John Rutter, which expresses beautifully what miraculous blossoming the coming of Christ brings to our lives.

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Published in: on November 29, 2009 at 3:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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