Homily on the first Sunday of advent. – 2020
“Our God will save us”
Dearly beloved, we gather today with every hope and expectation in a God who has promised to save us. I will not grow tired in acknowledging the difficulties and challenges that confront us during this time, all over the globe. The celebration of the first week of Advent marks the beginning of another liturgical year. Today, we move from the gospel of about Jesus, as recorded by St. Matthew, to the gospel according to St. Mark; which is the shortest of the four canonical Gospels. What this means for us is that most of the Gospel readings for the next year will be from the gospel of St. Mark.
The word Advent, comes from the Latin, Adventus which means to come. As Catholics, it reminds us first, of the coming of Christ over 2020 years ago. It also admonishes us that Christ will come again at a time in which we do not know of. However, it also reminds us of Christ’s coming to us each day through His words and His sacraments. The purpose of these reminders is to make ourselves ready when He comes. We are to ask ourselves if we are ready.
As always, the season of Advent does not only remind us of the hope we have in Christ Jesus to save us, but most importantly, it gives us the grace to live in a tumultuous time like this and not despair. This certainty we have in God’s promises, comes from what has been revealed from Holy Scripture and that which has been handed down to us through Sacred Tradition. The prophets from of old and many throughout our history as God’s people, have borne witness to this hope. In this, our current generation, we have become the bearers of this hope for humanity. How are we then witnessing to the world during these times? How are you witnessing to your families in times like this? Apart from the hope this season offers, it also prepares us to wait patiently in prayer and watchfulness. We have just celebrated Thanksgiving and the next big thing ahead is Christmas. For us, preparing for Christmas is more spiritual than anything physical.
In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks both prophetically as well as delivering a prayer; “O Lord you are our Father, Our Redeemer is your ancient name…” Then, he makes a petition to God: “Why leave us to stray from your ways…Oh that you would tear the heavens open and come down…? For many people today, the prophet Isaiah has summarized exactly what is on their hearts – why is everything this year so different in a bad way? Have you ever heard yourself speaking or thinking this way?
Beloved, as we hope for restoration ahead, there is always the temptation of being so engulfed in the future, that we fail to make use of the present time. There is nothing wrong in looking forward to a better future, whether that be tomorrow, next week, next month or next year. However, do not allow the present to keep you from living your lives to the fullest today. Do not focus all of your attention on what you will be doing differently, after the pandemic is over. Plan and focus on what you will be doing now, at these moments in your life during this time of the pandemic.
There is a story told by Pema Chödrön, about a woman who was being pursued by a tiger. She got to the end of a cliff and she was left with limited options. She noticed just a single branch extending from the side where she saw that below, the water was filled with sharks. She then managed to hold on to the branch away from the tiger. She was not going to be able to hang on forever. As she looked towards where the branch grew out of the cliff, she saw a strawberry patch and picked few to eat. She closed her eyes as she enjoyed the fruit. And that is how the story ended. We are, so often interested in knowing what happened to the woman afterwards. The moral of the story, is precisely to depict the human tendency to either focus on the tiger above or the sea below and in such a way, that we do not notice the strawberries, which is in the here and now.
Friends, even now, as we sit in this church, how much are you conscious of the now that is with us? Take a little time to examine this right now. Since the beginning of this mass, how attentive have you been to Jesus’ words from Holy Scripture; do we remember what the first reading and second readings were about? Could you remember any lines from the opening prayer today? Think about the first 15 minutes of this particular mass, what has been on your mind? What have you been worrying about or even day-dreaming about? What has been stealing your attention from being fully present to Jesus who is right here among us? What has become a priority to you over God in your own mind? In this 1-hour period of mass, if we find it difficult to keep watch during this short time, how realistic will the upcoming days, week or months be? Do you think it is possible to keep your focus on Christ?
St. Paul, in the second reading helps us to answer this in the second reading “He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:8-9). Our faith and trust to keep alert and watchful is not in ourselves but rather, in God. This is even more reason why we focus on prayer to help us during this time of Advent. Always pray and trust that with God’s help, you may be more focused on the important things that will prepare and make you ready for His coming. Many are the things that are competing for your attention; however, it is still possible to remain focus. Trust in God. Call on him every day at every moment. And all shall be well.