Living Well the Kairos of Advent, 1st Sunday of Advent (EF), December 3, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Agnes Church, Manhattan
First Sunday of Advent, Extraordinary Form
December 3, 2017
Rom 13:11-14, Lk 21:25-33

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following text guided today’s homily: 

Living the Church’s Kairos

Today we begin a new liturgical year. Sometimes Christians find this a little strange, that in the Church New Year’s Day begins today, rather than about a month from now. One of the reasons is because we are more influenced by secular chronos than we are by liturgical kairos. The Greeks, as many of you know, had two words for time. The first was chronos, symbolized by the tick-tock of clocks and the passing of sand through hour-glasses, measured in seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, years, decades, centuries, millennia and more. The second was kairos, which means a “propitious moment” or “decisive occasion.” When St. Paul says, “Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation,” he’s speaking about kairos, not chronos. For us to understand and live as Christians, we need to have a more Christian sense of time. We need to live more by kairos than chronos, taking our cues from the liturgical seasons more than we do balls dropping in Times Square or months decreed by Julius Caesar in 46 BC. We need to live intensely the liturgical year that traces the life of Christ from the time when the Jews anxiously awaited his appearance (Advent proper), to his nine months in the womb, to his birth, to his being greeted by the Shepherds and the angels, to his flight into Egypt and return, to his presentation and finding in the temple, to his forty days in the desert praying and fasting, to his baptism, to his public ministry, to his miracles, to his going up to Jerusalem and entering her on a donkey, to his last Supper, to his agony, trial, crucifixion and death, to his resurrection, ascension, sending forth the Holy Spirit, and ultimately to his return in glory. Jesus said to us over and again in the Gospel, “Follow me!” and each liturgical year we do just that, tracing his footsteps along the route of salvation history, trying to become more and more like him whom we’re following. In essence the liturgical year is not meant to be a liturgical cycle but a liturgical spiral, not a “same old, same old,” but something that helps us to enter into the mysteries we celebrate far more profoundly than the last time. Like re-reading a great book or watching anew a classic movie, each pass along the liturgical spiral is supposed to reveal to us elements we haven’t seen before and remind us of important things that we once knew but have forgotten about the mystery of God, his love for us, and his hopes and plans for us.

The proper attitude God wants us to have as we begin with this holy season of Advent the new liturgical year is given to us by St. Paul in today’s epistle. “What time, what kairos, is it?,” we could ask, and St. Paul replies: “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.”

Getting Up

Advent, he tells us, is first meant to be a time of spiritual reawakening, of spiritual rebirth, as we return to what should be the proper foundation of our life — Christ himself — and build our life on him. We have to get up. Sometimes many of us spiritually are like slumbering teenage boys against whom you need to take out defibrillating pads in order to get them out of bed! Many of us routinely hit the snooze button on the Lord’s calling us to become fully alive. We know we should make our faith a priority, but we just put it off to later. Advent is like a set of spiritual defibrillators meant to jolt us out of the spiritual comas into which out of weakness we can fall. Jesus alludes to this in the Gospel when talks about his second coming and how we can learn to stand erect and raise our heads to embrace the redemption he brings. “Beware,” he tells us, that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. … [But] be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.” Are we going to be drowsy or vigilant? Are we going to be drunk with spirits or filled with the Holy Spirit? Are we going to be overwhelmed with the anxieties of life or are we going to throw our cares on the Lord in prayer? Vigilance and prayer are standard Christian attitudes.

Jesus gave a parable about his second coming in which he contrasted the faithful and prudent steward who awaited his Master’s return and faithfully fed himself and others with the nourishment the Master provided versus the unfaithful and stupid servant who said “My Master is long delayed” and began to get smashed and to abuse the servants under his care. We know that when Jesus came into the world the first time, some people were vigilant, prayerful and ready, but most people were not. Mary Immaculate was ready and said a hearty “yes” to God’s will. St. Joseph was ready and therefore capable of adapting quickly to God’s mysterious plans. The shepherds were ready, vigilant at night, and ran to Bethlehem as soon as they heard the good news of great joy. 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, in his own drunkenness and anxieties, 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 downhill 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 and sadly not prepared when at last he came. To use Jesus’ words from today’s Gospel, they had allowed their hearts to “become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life.” They weren’t ready for the love he was bringing into the world. Jesus wants us to learn from their mistakes. It’s a new start. A second chance, or third, or ninetieth. But it’s an opportunity he wants to seize, not squander. He wants this new Church year to become the best spiritual year of our life, and he will give us all the graces necessary for it to become so, but we have to hunger for, receive and respond to this gift.

Getting Excited

That leads us to the second point. It’s a time of excitement, because as St. Paul says, salvation is nearer to us that when we became believers. It’s nearer to us because we’re a full-year closer to meeting Christ face-to-face that will happen when we die and are judged by him, the day, we pray, that we will be able to say with the Prophet Isaiah, “Behold the God to whom we looked to save us! This is the Lord for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!” Advent is a time when we not only look to the past, to Jesus’ coming in Bethlehem; it’s not merely a time when we look toward Jesus in the present, as he comes to us to teach us by his Word, feed us with his body and blood, forgive us in the Sacrament of Penance, and guide us each day through prayer; it’s also a time when we look ahead with joy to Christ’s coming at the end of our or at the end of time, whichever comes first. And we look forward not with anti-Christian, spiritually-worldly dread, but with truly Christian hope. Salvation is nearer to us now than last first Sunday of Advent, than two years ago, than the day of our Confirmation and first Holy Communion, than the day of our Baptism, than the day when we consciously first became believers! That’s something that should get us more excited than the most energetic football fan for the Super Bowl.

How do we do this? We get excited by stoking our love for God, for his promises, for heaven, for holiness, for happiness. This requires a choice to start placing our heart more where our true treasure ought to be. It means wanting to make more time for prayer than shopping, more time for reading Sacred Scripture or good spiritual books than watching television, more time for loving our neighbor — especially those in greater need of love — than we give to our hobbies and diversions. The advent wreath that is blessed at the beginning of this season is a symbol of that holy longing. The most important part, we know, is not the color of the candles, which symbolize the hopeful spirit of the weeks, or the evergreens, which symbolize God’s eternal love. The most important part is the flame, which symbolizes our prayerful vigilance for Christ’s coming. Just like the five wise bridesmaids in Jesus’ parable whose lamps were always burning in anticipation for the return of the Bridegroom, so the flame of these candles symbolize and remind us of the flame of desire we are called to have for Jesus’ return. By means of the Advent wreath, we spiritually unite ourselves to the Jews in their anticipation of the Messiah and the mercy he brought into the world. The Advent wreath, both here in Church and at home, is meant to help us to remain always ready for Christ’s light to irradiate our entire lives. It’s a sign of vigilance, of not falling asleep, of not letting our faith in his love and our longing for him expire.

Getting Moving

The third point is that Advent is a time of journeying. After getting our excitement and desires right, then we need to act on those desires, and get moving to Christ where he awaits us. Christ is coming — that is what the term Advent means — and we are called not to stay where we are, but to journey toward him and journey with him. Advent, like the life of faith as a whole, is fundamentally dynamic. There’s movement. We pray, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “O Come, Divine Messiah!” and at the same time we prepare to go out to meet and embrace him. We say with the wise bridesmaids in the Gospel parable, “The Bridegroom is here. Let us go out to meet him” (Mt 25:6). As Pope Francis said this morning in St. Peter’s Square, “Advent is the time given to us to welcome the Lord who is coming to meet us and to check our desire for God, to look ahead and prepare for his return. He will come to us on Christmas when we remember his historical coming in the humility of the human condition; he comes within us every time we are disposed to receive him; and he will come again at the end of time to judge the living and the dead. For this reason, we should always be vigilant and await the Lord with the hope of encountering him.” Advent is the season in which we make straight the paths for that encounter and then go to meet him in prayer; go encounter him in Confession; go receive him in the Eucharist; go worship him in adoration; go find him in the disguise of those who are in need; and continue to walk in his ways.

Making the Choice about the Advent we will live

So Advent is a time when we get up, get excited, and get moving. It’s like the gun at the start of a race that gets us to begin a spiritual sprint, to go with haste, to meet Christ as he comes. We know that getting up, getting excited and getting moving do not just happen to us. They require our will. They demand our free choice.

Many Christians sadly don’t live the liturgical kairos of Advent. The day after Thanksgiving they start celebrating a “Holiday season” that basically worships, not the baby Jesus, but commerce and that leads many people to spend more time in malls than they do in Church, to spend a night camped outside a department store on Black Friday than they do vigilant in prayer on any night of the Advent season. Many spend Advent going from one Christmas party to another and celebrating, honestly, not Jesus Christ, his love and his teachings, but mistletoes, egg nog and the very “drunkenness and carousing” Jesus warns us about in the Gospel. Even for faithful Catholics, there’s often a temptation to focus more on getting Christmas Trees ready and preparing to welcome Santa Claus than there is on getting our souls ready and preparing to embrace Christ.

As Jesus indicates to us in the Gospel, we have a choice about the type of Advent we’re going to live. If we just go along with the flow, however, we’re going to be dragged into a type of Advent that will do us little, if no, spiritual good. If we’re going to live a good and holy Advent, we need consciously to go against the current. And so I’m going to ask you to consider a few things. This new liturgical year is a time for New Year’s resolutions and it’s important that we make them. GK Chesterton once said, “The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions.” If we don’t make resolutions now, we may never make them. And so I would ask you to consider making resolutions:

  • To pray much more this Advent than you spend shopping, wrapping gifts and going to parties. Give yourself and your time to Jesus, and please him by receiving the gifts he wants to give you, especially the graces he communicates in times of prayer.
  • Second, to spend more time thoroughly cleaning your soul to welcome Jesus worthily with burning love than you do cleaning your house to welcome other guests. The best way we do that is by taking advantage of Jesus’ own cleaning business called the Sacrament of Penance. Later this season we will hear John the Baptist’s call to make straight the paths, when the Church will focus on the type of conversion that Jesus is asking of all of us this Advent, but I urge every single one of you to make sure not only that you come to Confession during this holy season, but that strive to make the best confession of your life, in order to receive Jesus better.
  • Third, as you look to purchase or make gifts for others, to try to get gifts for them that will help them to grow in faith, to nourish their relationship with God. I don’t rail against all the purchasing that takes place at Christmas, because I believe that the sacrifices everyone makes to buy gifts for others, the unselfishness that’s involved, is a really good and beautiful thing. But what I have an issue with is what gifts we actually give. On many occasions, rather than giving others gifts that help them to remain vigilant and alert for Christ’s coming, we foment their idolatry of clothes, or entertainment, or gadgets. Clearly, if we know a young child who has no winter jacket or winter boots or other necessities, it’s a beautiful thing to buy such a gift directly or as a Secret Santa. But if someone we know already has enough clothes, or toys or electronic niceties, how much more pleasing would it be to the Lord that you give something much more directly associated with him, like good books, or videos, or images. As St. Paul tells us at the end of today’s epistle, the whole point of life is to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” Help others, through your generosity, to put on Christ.

Each Advent is a gift of the Lord, a kairos to bring us back to what is most important in life, God’s love for us and our response to him in faith and love. On this first day of this new liturgical year, let us ask the Lord for the grace to make this a truly holy year, a year of prayer, a year of faith, a year of increased truly Christian love, a true year of the Lord! O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

A reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans
You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness [and] put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.

The continuation of the Gospel according to St. Luke
Jesus said to the crowd, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” He taught them a lesson. “Consider the fig tree and all the other trees. When their buds burst open, you see for yourselves and know that summer is now near; in the same way, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.