08 December 2019

Homily - Are these acts proper to a preparation for the coming of Christ the King?

The First Sunday of Advent (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

We prayed a few moments ago that, through this sacred season of Advent, that the almighty God will grant us “the resolve to run forth to meet [his] Christ with righteous deeds at his coming.”[1] If I may say so, our country is in desperate need of these righteous deeds!

How have we, as a nation, begun our preparations for the coming celebration of the Birth of the Christ? The answer – to anyone who pays any attention – must be a deafening, “Poorly!” Sadly, the sense of an encroaching darkness is not only to be found in the natural world, but also in the hearts of men and women. We sing in our carols that this is “the most wonderful time of the year,” but how did many seek to enter into the joy of the season? With self-absorption, violence, and greed. As evidence of this, take just a few examples of what transpired this past Friday, the very day after we as a nation professed to render thanks to the Almighty: a man was shot in a mall food court in Syracuse, New York because of an argument;[2] in White Hall, Pennsylvania, a fight broke out in the Lehigh Valley Mall; and in Hendersonville, Tennessee, employees at a Walmart had to disperse a group shouting profanities.[3] Are these the righteous deeds required of us to “be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom?”[4] Are these acts proper to a preparation for the coming of Christ the King?

I know some may object and say, “Father, those things didn’t happen around here; calm down.” Perhaps not, but not too far from here, in Jacksonville, Illinois, a man sought to hire himself out to stand in line for Black Friday shoppers; he listed one his qualifications as having “plenty of felonies so no need to worry bout [sic] me backin [sic] out of a fight.”[5] I remind you again of the words of Saint Augustine I shared with you two weeks ago:

Bad times! Troublesome times! This men are saying. Let our lives be good, and the times will be good. We make our times; such as we are, such are the times.[6]

Because we are part of this nation and all bear some share in the madness that has become Black Friday – and an improper celebration of Christmas - we must all honestly examine our lives and ask ourselves an important question: Am I resolved to go forth to meet the Savior with righteous deeds? The consideration of such a question is, after all, the very purpose of Advent. “Brothers and sisters: You know the time; it is the hour now for you to wake from sleep” (Romans 13:11).

In the midst of the darkness of these days, I find myself repeating a line J.R.R. Tolkien gave to Aragorn at Helm’s Deep: “Yet dawn is ever the hope of men.”[7] The ancient Christians prayed looking toward the east; even in their homes, they would look out an eastward facing window when making the sign of the Cross and saying their prayers. They did so in the confidence of the return of “the one Morning Star who never sets,” Christ Jesus, “who, coming back from death’s domain, has shed his peaceful light on humanity, and lives and reigns for ever and ever.”[8] They looked to the east because they knew that dawn is ever the hope of men. They looked not simply to the dawning of a new day, but for the dawning of the coming of the Lord Jesus with his angels and his saints; they lived in eager expectation of his coming and sought not to be caught unawares lest he come as a thief in the night. Can the same be said of us? Do we live in eager expectation of the coming of Christ, or in eager expectation of the next sale or party?

This season of Advent has as its chief aim two purposes: first, a preparation for the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time, and, second, a preparation to celebrate his Birth at Bethlehem. The temptation today is, as I have said before, to anticipate too early Christmas Day at the expense of our spiritual growth. In many families, the Christmas tree and the Nativity set are already raised and will be taken down shortly after Christmas dinner, in stark contrast to the liturgical year, which celebrates Christmas beginning not until Christmas Day and continuing through the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, this coming year the twelfth of January.

It seems we have forgotten this rich season that calls us to wait, to be still, to ponder, and to hope for the dawn. The Church “raises its gaze to the final goal of pilgrimage in history, which is the glorious return of the Lord Jesus” and, recalling 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.”[9] To put it another way, “Christians live in the transitional period between the black of night and the bright light of morning… But since the gloom of the present age has yet to dissipate, it remains a time of temptation and risk for God’s people.”[10]

Too often we lose sight of both of these directions – the future and the past - in the hustle and bustle of worldly life and become too caught up in the present. Advent calls us to step beyond this busy-ness, to contemplate anew the great love of the Lord Jesus who “shall judge between the nations and impose terms on many peoples” (Isaiah 2:4).

Our communal neglect of Advent in favor of the maddening drive to get more and more stuff we do not need “seems especially disturbing – for it’s injured even the secular Christmas season: opening a hole, from Thanksgiving on, that can be filled only with fiercer, madder, and wilder attempts to anticipate Christmas.”[11] We find ourselves surrounded by

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.[12]

Is this not something of what the Lord Jesus warns against when he tells us that we also “must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (Matthew 24:44)?

It is too easy for us to give in to the temptations that surround us, to focus on the commercialism and materialism of the culture in which we find ourselves, to ignore this season of grace in which we should be stirring ourselves from our faithlessness and from our sluggish spiritual sleep (cf. Romans 13:11). I challenge, urge, and beg you to instead focus on Jesus, on keeping his commands by loving God and neighbor in every circumstance, and to prepare to meet him when at last he comes to judge the living and the dead. So long as there is yet another dawn, there is time for us to “throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12). Let us keep these days of Advent well, not in the anticipation of the gifts we will exchange on Christmas Day, but in gratitude for the gift of the Lord’s mercy given us in his Birth at Bethlehem and in expectation of his return in glory.

Some time ago, Pope Francis gave us a bit of wise fatherly advice. He encouraged us to spend time in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, with the Eucharistic Lord present in his tabernacle, and to make a simple prayer: “You are God; I am a poor child loved by You.”[13] If we make this prayer our own, the Lord will help us remember the many ways we have failed to love both God and neighbor. With these sins in our minds and hearts, we can enter the confessional and entrust ourselves again to God’s merciful love. We will leave the confessional with a lightened and joyful heart and “the dawn from high shall break upon us” (Luke 1:78). Then, walking in his paths, this will truly be the most wonderful time of the year (Isaiah 2:3). Amen.

[1] Roman Missal, Collect for the First Sunday of Advent.
[2] Ryan Miller and Sarah Taddeo, “Destiny USA shooting: Police search for suspect after man shot at mall on Black Friday,” Democrat & Chronicle, 29 November 2019.
[3] Cf. Leslie Katz, “Black Friday 2019 fights prove shopping for deals is as perilous as ever,” CNET, 29 November 2019.
[4] Roman Missal, Collect for the First Sunday of Advent.
[5] Jimmy Bates, in the Facebook group “Jacksonville, IL Swap Shop, 27 November 2019.
[6] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon on the New Testament, 30.8.
[7] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers: Being the Second Part of The Lord of the Rings, 3.7 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994), 524.
[8] “Exultet,” Roman Missal.
[9] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 27 November 2005.
[10] Scott W. Hahn, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2017), 238
[11] Joseph Bottum, “The End of Advent,” First Things (December 2007), 20.
[12] Ibid.
[13] “Pope: Corruption is blasphemy which leads to worship of money,” Vatican Radio, 24 November 2016. Accessed 27 November 2016. Available at http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2016/11/24/pope_corruption_is_blasphemy_which_leads_to_money_worship/1274477

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