Homily for the First Sunday of Advent C, 28 November 2021 by Fr. Gerard Jonas
28Nov21.SunWk1Advent Jesus Comes
Jeremiah 33:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2; Luke 21:25-28,34-36
Happy New Year! Yes, as Fr Joe mentioned last night at Vespers, we now begin a new Liturgical Year. As we concluded the previous year reflecting on the Second Coming of Christ, we likewise begin anew with the same theme, like bookends, the coming of Christ. We begin the new Liturgical Year with the Season of Advent, meaning coming.
All our Readings for today give us a sort of an overture to the Advent theme of coming that helps us build up that feeling and attitude of joyful expectation. All through the four weeks of Advent, we shall reflect on the three forms of Christ’s coming.
The First Reading from the prophet Jeremiah prophetically tells of the coming of Jesus, our King and Saviour: “I will make a virtuous Branch grow for David, who shall practice honesty and integrity in the land.” This coming refers to the Child Jesus in Bethlehem – the Mystery of Incarnation. It may seem that after Thanksgiving, this is all we look forward to. We shall reflect on this more on the fourth and last week of Advent. Yes, Christmas is the First Coming. With joyful expectation, we await to celebrate the past coming of Christ – Christmas, at the end of Advent.
Meanwhile, during the first two weeks of Advent, we extend the reflection on Second Coming of Christ. Recall that this was how we concluded the previous Church year, the whole final week after celebrating the Sunday of Christ the King. Again, the Gospel Reading today highlights this end-times theme. Luke tells that “… they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” Our expectation for this can only be joyful if we keep vigilant so we don’t stray away. St Therese of Lisieux, even as a child did. She understood that the end-time also is personal – for each one, meaning one’s death. It is said that one day, she tightly embraced her lace-maker mother Zelie and lovingly whispered, “Mother, how I wish you would die so you can be with Jesus forever!” Yes, the anticipation of death and of the end times can always be joyful if we keep its proper perspective of finally being with Jesus forever. Here, the virtue of spiritual vigilance is what the Lord in the Gospel tells us as the only proper way. Otherwise, we may succumb to either extreme: the loose extreme of laxity and carefree life, as though we have all the time in the world before it comes to us, or the opposite extreme of rigidity that overwhelms us with fear as though the ‘sword of Damocles’ is always ominously dangling overhead.
And there is still the third form of Christ’s coming which can help us navigate between the First and the Second Comings. Here, we have the Second Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians to help us reflect on Christ’s Continuous Coming, Christ’s coming in mystery in our daily life. Yes, we welcome and receive Christ in the Sacraments, in our prayers. But we likewise welcome Christ in daily interactions with one another and all of creation. So Paul prays that we “increase in love for one another and for all… and be blameless in holiness” and reminds us that we “should conduct (y)ourselves to please God…” This is the theme for the Third Week of Advent – that Christ, since he Incarnated has kept us company. We encounter Him daily. The Lord is with us as we journey to eternity. We both are recipients and instruments of His blessing through and for others. We are inspired as we too inspire. We experience goodness and kindness from others’ generosity, likewise others’ needs opportune our growth in generosity.
Our monastic tradition also tells us that life is a continuous Advent journey.
There’s a story of a traveler who one day stopped at a monastery and asked an elderly monk for a word of wisdom that would guide the rest of the journey:
The elderly monk nodded affably, and though it was a day of silence took a sheet of paper and wrote on it a single word, “Awareness.”
“Awareness?” the traveler said, perplexed.
“That’s far too brief.
“Couldn’t you expand on that a bit?”
So, the elderly monk took the paper back and wrote: “Awareness, awareness, awareness.”
“But what do these words mean?” the traveler insisted.
Finally, the elderly monk reached for the paper and wrote, clearly and firmly,
“Awareness, awareness, awareness means…Awareness!” (big excl pt!)
To live life as a continuous Advent means nurturing our awareness of Christ’s presence in his three comings – in history, in daily life and at the end of time.