28 November 2009

Did you miss them?

It has been a while since I last posted a homily. What follows is my homily for this Sunday. I hope to resume posting homilies for Sundays and holy days.
The First Sunday of Advent (C)

The liturgical year, with its celebration of the season of Advent seems to run in stark contrast with the secular year, which already has begun to celebrate Christmas, even before Thanksgiving Day. We Christians may be tempted to celebrate Christmas now with the secularists, too, but by doing so we would deprive ourselves of a great treasure.

The season of Advent has as its chief end two purposes: a preparation for the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time and a preparation to celebrate his Birth at Bethlehem when he entered into time. The temptation today, I fear, is to anticipate too early Christmas Day at the expense of our spiritual growth by not realizing that he who comes is both King and Judge.

In many families the Christmas tree has already been raised and will be taken down shortly after Christmas dinner, in stark contrast to the liturgical year, which celebrates Christmas on the twenty-fifth of December through the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, this year on the tenth of January.

It seems that we have forgotten – or at least neglected – this rich season that calls us to wait, to be still, to ponder; this season calls us to those things we would rather avoid, hating silence as we do. Indeed, as the world celebrates a distorted reason for the season, Holy Mother Church calls us to spend these days in quiet recollection preparing ourselves for the two-fold coming of Christ.

Through this season, the Christian people, “raises its gaze to the final goal of pilgrimage in history, which is the glorious return of the Lord Jesus.” But through these days the Christian people also recalls Jesus’ “birth in Bethlehem with emotion, it bends down before the crib. The hope of Christians is directed to the future, but always remains well rooted in a past event.” Through the season of Advent, we focus our attention first to Christ’s future coming through the sixteenth of December; beginning the seventeenth of December we focus our attention toward Bethlehem.

Too often we lose sight of both of these directions – the future and the past - in the hustle and bustle of worldly life and are so caught up in the present distractions. Advent calls us to step beyond this busy-ness, to contemplate anew the great love of the Lord Jesus, of the one who “will fulfill the promise [he] made to the house of Israel and Judah” (Jeremiah 33:14).

Joseph Bottum has rightly observed that “the disappearance of Advent seems especially disturbing – for [it has] injured even the secular Christmas season: opening a whole, from Thanksgiving on, that can be filled only with fiercer, madder, and wilder attempts to anticipate Christmas.” By this he means:
More Christmas trees. More Christmas lights. More tinsel, more tassels, more glitter, more glee – until the glut of candles and carols, ornaments and trimmings, has left almost nothing for Christmas Day. For much of America, Christmas itself arrives nearly as an afterthought: not the fulfillment, but only the end, of the long Yule season that has burned without stop since the stores began their Christmas sales.
Will we, too, be caught up in this? Will Christmas come for us as a disappointment, as a relief, rather than the culmination of a great preparation?

Is this not what the Lord Jesus warns against when he tells us to “beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life” (Luke 21:34)?

It is too easy for us to give in to the temptations that surround us, to ignore this season of grace through which the Lord can make us “increase and abound in love for one another and for all … so as to strengthen [our] hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his holy ones” (I Thessalonians 3:12-13).

If we keep well the Advent season, patiently and intently, if we live it truly as a season of longing through which we hope to learn “to love heaven,” we will not become drowsy from the anxieties of daily life and we will be richly blessed. Indeed, the Lord will make his paths known to us, he will show us his paths and will guide us in truth (cf. Psalm 25:4-5).

As we seek to prepare ourselves for the day when the Son of Man will come “in a cloud with power and great glory,” we will recognize him as the one who comes “to judge the living and the dead (Luke 21:27).” The more we consider his judgment, the more we will realize – if we quiet ourselves in his presence – that “good and upright is the Lord; thus he shows sinners the way” (Psalm 25:8). If we use these days of Advent prayerfully, the Lord will guide “the humble to justice” and will teach “the humble his way” (Psalm 25:9).

If we use these days in this way, the Lord will surely “increase our strength of will for doing good that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming and call us to his side in the kingdom of heaven.”

Let us, then, my friends, not anticipate too early the fulfillment of this holy season, but let us live it fully each day preparing for the coming of our Lord. May he find us watching and waiting in joyful hope when he comes. Let us “watch for the day, hoping that the salvation promised us will be ours when Christ our Lord comes again in his glory.” Amen!

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