In his homily for 1st Sunday of Advent, Year A, Father Hanly asks why we prepare for the coming of our Saviour at Christmas with a reading about the second coming.
Readings for Mass
First Reading: Isaiah 2:1-5
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Second Reading: Romans 13:11-14
Gospel: Matthew 24:37-44
Recording of Homily
Transcript of Homily
You’d think the proper preparation for Christmas would be an awful lot of happy songs and singing and dancing and preparing for the way of the Lord, and here we get the very end of the Apocalypse, the end of the world.
And we kind of stop for a minute and think how in God’s name is this the preparation for the coming of the Child, the coming of the Messiah, the coming of the Saviour?
I don’t know. But I can offer a few suggestions.
One is that knowing the final outcome should keep us aware of how important the path is, getting there. If you know what the final outcome is, all the struggle and darkness and failure and all these things that are a part of the human condition, can be understood. They can be put in perspective.
And that is what the writer does. We are prepared for the end of the world so we know how we can actually behave as we move towards that end.
Now the end is full of eschatological language, which is a big word trying to describe the end of time. It’s sort of like a Star Wars of fear: things are falling apart and everything is collapsing around us.
But we forget the very end. And in each of the gospels, the end is “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid for it is the hour of glory. The end of this world is the beginning of the next world, and the next world is peace and joy and happiness through all eternity.
And you have been chosen. You have been chosen even before you begin to be born into this world and move through this world with all the wonders of what each person has and all the problems and all of the difficulties and all of the weaknesses.
And so this kind of cataclysmic climax of the world is about the old world. But Jesus, who comes as a child, will be with us. He will be with us through our journey. He is always with us.
And why do we speak of the Coming then if it’s only Christmas?
The baby is born, the weak child. It’s the first step. The first step is the wonderful mystery of God, that the creator of heaven and earth becomes a helpless little child, needing a mother who is not even married to give him birth, and Joseph the carpenter frightened out of his wits, what is going to happen to him? And taking them in this expression of the great weakness of God that we are asked to remember that this is what Christmas is.
Christmas is the beginning of our salvation, of our healing, of our understanding of who we really are.
If he came as Superman, who could follow him? We’d be wasting our time here.
But if he takes on the human condition, if he feels the pain that we feel, and even more than any of us will ever be asked to suffer, if he sees that and looks down from the cross and says, “Forgive us all Father,” and demands that the Father not only forgive us, but heal us and save us.
And we look up into his eyes and we say, “God understands.” Not as a great God who’s going to do wonders all the time, but as a God who has entered into the human condition, rejoiced as we rejoice and suffered as we suffer.
And so the first step: God must become a helpless child. He must be vulnerable or he cannot be called the king of the people. He must suffer and he does.
The Second Coming is given to us in an eschatological way. It’s the end of the world. And at the end of the world, God wins.
After the disasters and the wars and the terrible havoc that happens in our world, we tend to think that living in this life is not worth all the trouble.
But it is more than that, for out of the pain and out of the sorrow and out of man thinking he has his own way, God moulds His own world with every bit of the tears and all the agony and all the fears and all that goes with it. He changes them to realise that this was the stuff of His Son, and His Son is our Saviour and our healer. And so, at the end of the world, he comes in glory on angel’s wings and he calls all the people together and the new millennium begins.
And that should give us hope, especially during these troubled times when we’re never really sure what the next week or what the next month will bring us.
But the best one, and the one we should pay most attention, is another kind of coming.
Coming. Advent doesn’t mean he came and sat and saved, although he did that. He became man and said, “I will never leave you. From now to the end of time, I will be with my people.” And that’s a promise. It’s not our promise, which we tend to break most of the time; it’s his promise, God’s promise.
But life does not look that way.
Look at it in another way. Coming means to be constant and constantly coming.
We don’t walk through the streets feeling the presence of God and Jesus walking with us and making us happy all day long. No, we live our lives the way we were meant to live our lives: in faith, in loving, in truth. This is the way we are meant to live our lives as human beings.
But most of all, because Jesus says, “I am with you all days,” we live it with hope.
Hope is the most important of all virtues. You can live without faith and many people do. You can live without love and many people do. But to look into the future and see no hope is to live in despair.
So hope is the little girl that needs faith, the commitment to good and to God and to be trying our best, and it is the stuff that love is made of, for love is constantly going out and taking care.
But hope is our future. Hope carries us over those thresholds and makes us aware at the same time of the difficulties of the present, but the opportunity of the present to become what we were meant to become in the final realisation of the end of the world.
And so it is Advent is a way of looking at life. We look at life face on, realistically, knowing its difficulties, knowing its joys. And that is good.
But it is more than that. It is out of this stuff that eternity is created. And we live with faith and we try our best to love and Jesus is our guide who walks with us.
Then why do we constantly say Jesus is coming and coming and coming? Because, to be perfectly frank, we might have him for a moment in our hearts, and then we get caught up in the ordinariness of our days and forget him, sometimes for weeks, sometimes for years, and he can be coming all over the world but we would walk on by.
The Rabbis have a great old saying. There are two great Jewish ways of looking at the world in this way.
The first one is a Jewish mother trying to tell her little children, “Do a good deed, for every time you do a good deed, the Messiah, the Christ, comes one step closer to the world.”
And this is a great reason for letting us know that we participate in the coming of God, not just His presence, everybody knows God is everywhere, but a presence that is accepted, and a God that we live by, and a Saviour, Jesus, in our everyday lives.
The other one is much sadder and is also true. The Rabbis used to say, “The Messiah is coming, the one who will heal us and save us and change all things. And he walks to the edge of the city. And it is night time. And he walks from one end of the city, through the whole city, and he comes to the end. And nobody stops and nobody asks and nobody cares. And the Messiah walks out the other end and nobody is touched.”
That’s kind of a grim story, but if you look at it in another way, it’s a true story. God is with us. Everything is with us. Everything we have is around us. The question is, “Are we awake?” And that’s why the gospel says, “Wake up. The time for your salvation has come.” Once only? No, every day of your life.
And what are you awake to? The presence of the Messiah in your midst, talking to you, leading you, being with you, forgiving you, all these things that you dream that makes life possible and life worth living.
So make up your minds on this Advent beginning, that Christmas is not just shopping and opening presents and feeling burdened by all the cards you have to sign.
Christmas is each day to understand that the gift of God Himself is the present. The Child is the present His Father gives us, that we might never feel alone and never despair, but always have hope running before us and our love for each other and our care for each other and our faith, not only in God but in each other, moving along to the good and certain day when the Second Coming, in all its glory, will be for all mankind.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
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This homily was delivered on 28th November 2010.
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