Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Francis Xavier Church, Hyannis, MA
First Sunday of Advent, Year A
November 28, 2004
Is 2:1-5; Rom 13:11-14; Mt 24:37-44
1) Happy New Year’s Day! Today the Church, indeed, inaugurates a new year dedicated to our reliving in time the central mysteries of the life of Christ. Christ is the “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev 22:13), and the Church has us begin each year focusing both on the end and on the beginning so that we might better live the present. Advent is that season in which we prepare for Christ’s coming in the past (in Bethlehem), his coming in the future (on the clouds of heaven to judge the living and the dead) and his coming in the present (in so many ways, but especially in the Eucharist).
2) Advent, like the life of faith as a whole, is fundamentally DYNAMIC. There’s movement. Christ out of love is coming toward us and we, out of love, await his coming, so that we might embrace him with joy. There’s a temptation sometimes to look at a new liturgical year with little or no excitement, similar to what we experience when we watch re-runs of television programs or movies. We know how the story ends and therefore it makes less and less of an impression on us each time. But that’s not the way God wants it and that is not what the liturgical year is meant to be. It’s supposed to be more like the way Red Sox fans and players alike are looking forward to spring training next year. Even though there will be 162 games next season just like this one, even though the squad will for the most part face the same opponents in the same cities, even though the games will still be nine innings long and the diamond will have the same dimensions, there will be a whole new drama. The drama will involve how they rise to meet the challenges that will come to them within the structure of the new season. Similarly, there’s meant to be a whole new drama for us in this new liturgical season in which we, with Christ’s help, rise to meet the challenges he puts before us. Every liturgical CYCLE is supposed to be a liturgical SPIRAL: we are not meant to repeat last year’s steps but rather to retrace their direction at a higher and more intense level. The experience of last year is meant to help us to have a better season this year. God the Father shouts to us from heaven, “play ball!,” and he wants us to do so with enthusiasm.
3) Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel that, when he comes, there will be winners and there will be losers. “As it was in the days of Noah,” he stresses, “so will it be at the coming of the Son of Man.” We know what happened at the time of Noah. “The wickedness of mankind was great in the earth and every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually,” the Book of Genesis tells us. “It grieved God to the heart” (Gen 6:5-6). While the majority of people were drowning in their own hedonism — so self-absorbed that they didn’t even see the storm coming — Noah was building an ark awaiting God’s word to be fulfilled. Jesus tells us that history will repeat itself. When he comes again, some will be ready and some won’t. He tells us that of two men who do the same job in the field, only one will be ready; of two women in the kitchen, only one will be prepared; of a husband and a wife in the same bed, only one will be taken (Lk 17:34). He himself has come into the world and built a new ark for us — Peter’s barque, the Church — stockpiling it with the salvific provisions of the sacraments, his Word and his very presence, but we have to be wise enough to see the forecast and to get on that ark.
4) Jesus tells us very clearly in the Gospel how to avoid making the same mistake the people in Noah’s day did. The means is to “stay awake,” to remain always vigilant and alert for his return so that we might never “fall asleep spiritually” and be caught off guard. St. Paul interprets for us what that means in the second reading. “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”
5) Thus, each of us is faced with a choice. The choice is between light and darkness, between day and night, between life and death. The choice is that stark. If we elect to “revel in drunkenness, debauchery, licentiousness, quarreling and jealousy,” we’re electing the darkness and will remain there. In the final analysis, we either “make provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires,” or make provision for the Spirit, to gratify God. Jesus and his faithful apostle sound an alarm clock for us today. They tell us to wake up. And they give us the GOOD NEWS that we CAN “walk in the light of the Lord” (first reading), leaving “the words of darkness” behind, and “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” That is the way we will always be ready to embrace Christ whenever and wherever he comes.
6) We know that when Christ came into the world the first time, some people were ready, but most people were not. Mary Immaculate was ready and said a hearty “yes” to God’s will. Joseph was ready and therefore capable of adapting quickly to God’s mysterious plans. The shepherds were ready, vigilant at night, to run to Bethlehem as soon as they heard the news. The Magi were ready, so ready in fact that they were able to discern the newborn king’s presence through the presence of a star. On the other hand, Herod was not ready, too caught up in his own pride and sensuality to recognize the Source of his authority. The inn-keepers were not ready, too caught up in their business and in their need for order that they didn’t have room to house their Creator. The scholars of the law were not ready to make even the short six mile journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to learn from the Divine Legislator. The vast majority of the Jewish people, who had been awaiting the advent of their Messiah for centuries, were simply not prepared when at last he came.
7) The surest way for us to be ready for Christ when he comes in the future is to be ready for him now. The same Christ whom the shepherds and Magi adored in Bethlehem comes to us in the Eucharist, in an even more humble disguise. Our response to Jesus in the Eucharist now is the true indication of whether we are awake or asleep, whether we’re like Noah or so many of his contemporaries, whether we’re imitating Mary and Joseph, the Shepherds and the Magi, or whether we’re behaving more like the inn-keepers, scholars of the law and Herod. How we respond in this year of the Eucharist is therefore a great litmus test. How would we have responded two-thousand years ago if we were in Bethlehem? The best indication is how we respond now when Christ is here with us in Hyannis.
8 ) In this new liturgical year, let’s get it right. Emmanuel, God-with-us, has come! He is here with us now in the Eucharist. Come, let us adore Him!