Guest homily for The First Sunday of Advent,
Nov. 28, 2010:
By Fr. Alex McAllister SDS
The readings for today, this first Sunday of the liturgical year don’t sound very different in tone from the last Sunday of the outgoing year, not counting the special readings for the Feast of Christ the King.
At first sight that might seem a bit surprising —but, of course, in the Church this sort of thing happens all the time and when you take a closer look you usually find that there are some very good reasons.
During the liturgical year we cover all the main events of the life of Christ and get a fair overview of his teaching through the eyes of one or other of the Evangelists. The liturgical year draws to its conclusion with a dreadful glimpse of the end of the world —a sort of a scriptural Dies Ire.
During Advent we prepare ourselves to celebrate Christmas; but, as Christians, we do so in a way which prepares us also for Christ’s second coming.
So, like all good overtures, right at the beginning we get a glimpse of the finale.
But there are actually three comings of Christ: his first coming 2000 years ago and his second coming which will take place at the end of time. And, of course, his coming into our hearts each day.
When we celebrated the Great Jubilee in the Year 2000 the Pope gave us the theme ‘Christ yesterday, today and forever.’ This sums up these three comings of Christ. Yesterday, as it were, in Bethlehem; Christ coming today in our hearts; and Christ coming tomorrow, at the end of time.
Our three readings today each take one of these themes.
The first reading from Isaiah looks with joy towards the coming of the Messiah, the Christ: Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the Temple of the God of Jacob that he may teach us his ways so that we may walk in his paths.
Jesus, as we know, frequently taught in the precincts of the Temple. He taught the people how to live in a way pleasing to God and by his teaching many people were enabled to walk in the paths of the Lord.
In the extract from Romans, Paul in his no nonsense way is speaking about the here and now. The time has come and we must walk in the light and throw aside any hint of darkness.
The word he uses for time here is the word Kairos. The other word for time is Chronos which means the passage of time; as in speaking of someone with a chronic illness meaning one which has gone on for a long time or a chronometer meaning an instrument for the measurement of time.
Kairos means the favourable time—the moment when things are to happen—an occasion. Christ comes at a particular moment in time, it is a favourable moment, and the day he comes is ‘the’ Day of Salvation.
Paul is telling the Romans that this is today, now. Jesus has come into the world and brought salvation to the whole human race and now we are living this salvation out right now. These are special times, a period of blessedness in which the saved demonstrate what to live in Christ really means.
And then in Matthew we listen to Jesus speaking about the endtimes. He compares it with the great flood in Noah’s time and when it comes, just as in those days, some will be ready but most will not.
His point is that we should beware of blithely going on living our lives without a care in the world; rather we should prepare ourselves, live as if that day of days is already upon us.
A famous person was once asked how they would spend the day if they woke up one morning only to find it was their last day. “I wouldn’t do anything different than I usually do”, came the reply. How right and fitting this is; but of course most of us aren’t quite so principled and full of character.
We tend to go our own way today and resolve to go the Lord’s way tomorrow, a tomorrow which never comes. But this is no way to live a truly worthy life; we would soon end up as a bundle of contradictions —but with selfishness triumphing over all our good intentions.
Surely the thing for us to do is to work gradually at it. Like a recovering alcoholic we should take one day at a time, do one good thing at a time, resist one sin at a time.
But God doesn’t want us to get so bogged down and overburdened in our attempts to try to follow the right path that we don’t enjoy ourselves.
He does not want us to look forward to that Day of his Second Coming with dread and in foreboding. He wants us to await his Second Coming breathless with anticipation, eagerly awaiting his arrival just as a child waits for Christmas.
This Day that we are waiting for is truly a Day of Joy, a Day of Wonder, a Day of Fulfilment, indeed it is ‘the’ Day of Salvation. And all things in heaven and on earth will come to their culmination on that great Day of Days.
As they say nowadays: bring it on!