1st Sunday of Advent
December 1, 2019
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
The word “Advent”, of course, means “coming.”
And the season of “Advent” is the time of preparing for the coming of Christ.
But Advent actually involves preparation for 2 “comings”:
we prepare to celebrate the 1st coming of Christ 2000 years ago,
and we prepare for His 2nd coming at the end of time.
So Advent is not simply about the NOW,
but about looking back and forward.
In short, it’s about making the present the meeting point of past and future.
Unfortunately, most people don’t think of this as “the Advent Season,”
but as “the Christmas Season.”
And they don’t so much look forward to Christmas,
as want to have Christmas NOW, and not wait for December 25th.
And they don’t look back much either,
except to remember the good times they’ve had on past December 25ths.
But for us, it’s got to be different.
As much as we look forward to the coming December 25th, 2019,
we do so first by looking backward to December 25th, 2000 years ago.
And really, we look even farther back than that.
For example, today with the first reading form the prophet Isaiah,
we look back about 500 years before the birth of Christ
—that’s 2500 years back;
and in the Psalm we look back 500 years further back to King David
–that’s 3000 years back.
But even there, as we look back, we also look forward.
Because the millennia-old prophecies we read in Isaiah and the Psalms
are prophecies of the future—theirs and ours.
“In days to come, …
All nations shall …say:
“Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain,
that he may instruct us in his ways.”
He’s talking here about the future coming of the Messiah,
and the proclamation of the Gospel to the whole world.
So looking back at what Isaiah said
we then sort of look forward with him
500 into Isaiah’s future
and 2000 years into our past
to the birth of Jesus.
But Isaiah doesn’t stop there:
he goes on to say:
“He (the Christ) shall judge between the nations,
They shall beat their swords into plowshares…
one nation shall not raise the sword against another.”
Clearly this part of the prophecy hasn’t been fulfilled yet.
Rather, he’s talking about the same thing Jesus does in today’s Gospel,
when He talks about His second coming, saying:
“you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
So Isaiah’s prophecy is part of our past and part of our future..
Some might say:
Father, what’s all this about the future and the past?
What about the present?
It is true that we must live in “the present moment.”
As Paul reminds us in today’s 2nd reading:
“it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.”
But we have to be careful.
First of all, over-focusing on the present
can cause us to sort of cut ourselves off from the past.
And so we lose sight of the lessons of history.
We forget the wisdom and the important sacrifices made
by so many who came before us, especially our parents.
And we lose sight of our past sins.
Some say this is good, letting go of the burdens of the past
—and there’s some truth there too.
But if we forget the evil we’ve done,
we also forget the need to repair the harm we’ve done,
and to avoid doing it again,
and to appreciate the profundity of the forgiveness we’ve received,
and the necessity to forgive others as we have been forgiven—in the past.
And if we forget the good we’ve done in the past, and the lessons we’ve learned,
where would we be today?
Not standing on the shoulders of giants
and building on the strong foundations laid before us,
but instead re-digging foundations every day,
throwing away the treasures hard won
by our ancestors and forefathers, and even ourselves.
And focusing only on the present can also lead us to lose sight of the future.
Of course, we can’t think just about the future,
especially if we’re worrying about what might come.
But if we don’t look to the future at all,
we can lead us to lose sight of our potential.
We stop being concerned about improving ourselves
and building a better world for our children
and to teach them
how to sacrifice and what to believe and value today
so they can become the best God made them to be
—even if that means making their life a little less fun
and a lot more disciplined in the present and now.
And we forget that the actions we do today have consequences tomorrow.
And if our situation in the present isn’t all that good
we lose hope that things can be better….in the future.
In the end, an exaggerated focus on the present
can lead many into a certain self-centeredness.
We forget the importance of those who came before us,
and those who will come after us,
and we become the center of our world,
and our immediate happiness takes priority.
And the search for this “happiness” quickly turns into
a quest for immediate gratification and good feelings,
without concern for past lessons of right or wrong,
or future consequences.
Worst of all, without an eye on the past and future, we lose sight of Christ.
We don’t look back at the prophesies and their fulfillment.
We forget that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son,
and the profundity of His Incarnation and Birth,
and His life, death and resurrection.
And we forget His promise that
if we believe in Him and kept His commandments,
He would give us share in His life and love
in this world and in the world to come.
And we won’t look forward to sharing in that life and love,
to growing in holiness,
to becoming the great men and women He created us to be.
We’ll lose grasp of the wondrous hope
that even if everyone else abandons,
Christ will always be there loving us.
Don’t misunderstand me: for Christians, the present, NOW, is critical.
But it’s only possible to understand and live well in the present
by seeing it in the context of the past and future,
as the meeting, the nexus, the coming together
of past and future.
As St. Paul says: “It is the hour now.”
“Now” is the time
“to awake from sleep”
to “throw off the works of darkness”
and to “put on the armor of light.”
Now is not the hour of self-gratification, or of isolation from past and future.
Now is the time to take what we’ve learned in the past,
and begin to be the person God gives us the potential to become,
–and to help those around us to do the same.
Now is the hour to listen to God’s promises of the past,
to remember how He fulfilled so many of them in the past
and to look forward to their completion in the future,
as Jesus comes in glory.
Unfortunately, for too many, Advent is a time of NOW alone,
without past or future:
it’s all about immediate self-gratification.
For some this comes out in obvious ways.
Think of some of last year’s Christmas parties or shopping adventures,
and St. Paul words today strike a particularly familiar note:
“let us conduct ourselves
…not in orgies and drunkenness,
…promiscuity and lust,
…rivalry and jealousy.
…the desires of the flesh.”
For others, it comes out in less obvious ways.
How many parents have given their children ridiculously expensive gifts
that they know would only spoil them.
They think only of the immediate gratification
they and their children will feel on Christmas morning,
but not the long term effects that indulging
greed and selfishness will have in years to come.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
If we spend this Advent as a time
to remember the promises and miracles of the past
and to open our hearts and minds to our hope in our future with Christ,
this could be truly the best, happiest and holiest Advent–and Christmas—
we’ve ever had.
And that can begin right here and now, at this Mass.
Some tell me that Mass has little relevance to them, some even say it’s boring.
Unfortunately, what happens with a lot of these folks is
that they’re looking at the Mass strictly as a present experience,
and so they look for easy and immediate gratification:
they expect to be entertained or made to feel good
by the priests, or the music,
or by the people around them.
And so the Mass has become about them and what they want right now.
But the Mass is the perfect and concrete example
of what I’ve been talking about:
the present as the meeting place of past and future.
Think of the 2 main parts of the Mass:
the Liturgies of the Word and the Eucharist.
The Scriptures and Homily lead us
to look back and forward at the same time, as we’ve done today.
And then, most sublimely, we enter into the mystery of the Eucharist:
where God miraculously descends out of eternity
and makes the one perfect sacrifice of the Cross of 2000 years ago
and the future heavenly banquet
really and truly here in this present moment.
Christ born 2000 years ago and Christ coming again at the end of time,
present to us right now, and entering into us in Holy Communion.
And suddenly we are united to:
“the Alpha and the Omega…
who is and who was and who is to come
….the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
Open your mind and heart today to this great mystery.
Let this be the beginning of an Advent free of selfishness.
A time of remembering and hoping in
the promises Christ has already kept and will soon keep.
A time of repenting past sins, and of becoming who we truly long to be.
At time to look back at the babe born in Bethlehem,
and look forward to his coming again.
A time for the wondrous past and the glorious future to come together,
in Christ Jesus the Lord.