Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Parish, New Bedford
First Sunday of Advent, Year A
November 27, 2005
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 reliving the beginning, Christ’s coming in the past (in Bethlehem); for the end, his coming in the future on the clouds of heaven to judge the living and the dead; by means of embracing 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 and prepare to go meet him and embrace him with joy. There’s a temptation sometimes to look at a new liturgical year as a humdrum and boring happening. We can approach it with the same minimal excited 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 look forward to spring training. 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) In this new season we begin today, there will, as in baseball, be some curve balls, some fast balls, and hopefully some softballs. But we’ll never be able to take advantage of any of them if we’re asleep in the batter’s box. That’s why Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel, “Keep alert” and “stay awake.” He states this principally about his coming at the end of time, or at the end of our life, whichever comes first. He tells us we should be like a good door man, who is always alert and ready to open the door at the return of his boss, no matter what hour he comes. We know that when Christ came into the world the first time, some people were alert 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 run 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 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.
4) At the beginning of this Advent, the Lord wants us to ask whether we’re ready or asleep. He tells us at the end of the Gospel, “What I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” The Advent wreath that we bless and light today is meant to be a symbol and cause of our readiness. The most important part of the advent wreath 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 vigilance for Christ’s coming. Just like the five wise virgins we heard about three weeks ago in the Gospel, whose lamps were always burning in anticipation for the return of the Bridegroom, so the flame of these candles symbolize and remind us of our need wisely to await Jesus’ coming. Through the Advent wreath, we spiritually unite ourselves to the Jews in their anticipation of the Messiah. Isaiah said that they were a people “walking in darkness” (Is 9:2) awaiting the light. St. Matthew says that that prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus: “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and darkness of death, light has dawned.” That light of the dawn is Jesus, the Light of the World. Both here in Church and at home, the Advent wreath is meant to help us to remain always ready vigilant for Christ’s light to irradiate our entire lives. Like people who light up their doors at night whenever a guest is coming, so we light these candles announcing that we’re expecting the arrival of the Divine Guest. This is the vigilance that will allow us to become the good doormen Jesus calls us to be in the Gospel. Like the flame on this candle, we are meant to continue to burn for Christ’s coming, never to fall asleep, never to be extinguished.
5) The surest way for us to be ready for Christ when he comes in the future is to be ready for him now. The best litmus test to determine how we would have responded two thousand years in Bethlehem is how we respond to his presence today. The same Christ whom the shepherds and Magi adored in Bethlehem comes to us in the Eucharist, in an even more humble disguise than he assumed in the manger. Our response to Jesus in the Eucharist now is the true indication of whether we are awake or asleep, 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. This new liturgical year is a gift from God to help us enter into the reality of Christ’s presence ever more intensely. May the Lord help us to make this new year a true year of the Lord.