Advent I, 29th Nov 2020
Here we are at the beginning of a New Christian Year, for our Calendar begins with the First Sunday of Advent, one of the shortest seasons of the Christian Year and yet a very important one for it is a season of preparation and penitence and a season of earnest and joyful looking forward.
Most of us have been worn down in a very boring political way with the machinations of COVID-19 and its lock-downs and constantly changing rules and regulations and the uncertainty to date of where Brexit and Boris Johnson will take us and others have been no less bogged-down by the fear of what is happening to our economy all detracting from the permanence which we have in our Saviour Jesus Christ, whose birth we shall celebrate, albeit in a rather low-key kind of way in about four weeks time. The frenzy of commercialism of past years may well, this year, give way to a greater realisation of what Advent and Christmas really are about.
Yes, these four Sundays and, indeed, the weekdays in between are a preparation period for putting Jesus back into our lives and into the meaning of Christmas and so it is a time (a) to prepare ourselves to be worthy of celebrating this Christmas this anniversary of Our Lord`s coming into this world in human flesh, taking our human nature upon himself as the incarnate God of Love. (b) It is the season that through grace and through the Sacrament of Holy Communion (even though on this First Sunday of Advent most of us cannot physically attend Mass) we can prepare our souls both to celebrate what has already happened but, the more so, that we each might be an abode for the coming again of Jesus our Lord and Redeemer and (c) it is a season of preparing ourselves for the final coming of Our Lord as Judge Eternal over each one of us whether that time should be at our own death or at the end of the world as we know it – whichever is the earlier.
Our Bible readings today should well prepare us to be spiritually uplifted as we consider these three pointers. From Isaiah 61 we find the prophet calling upon God to hear the heavens open and to come down afresh, acknowledging the sinfulness of God`s Chosen People but also owning up to the waywardness of His people in the words: `For you hid your face from us and gave us up to the power of our sins. And yet, Lord, you are our Father; we the clay, you the potter, we are all the work of your hand.` This acknowledgment of God as our Father who has fashioned each one of us, by Isaiah and the calling of him to come down afresh is answered in the incarnation – Jesus taking human flesh upon himself in the womb of His Mother Mary, the Mother of us all.
Today`s responsorial to Psalm 80 is both an acknowledgment of human waywardness and the need to be brought back by and to the Shepherd as we respond: `God of hosts, bring us back; let your face shine on us and we shall be saved.`
On a number of occasions in the past I have emphasised how gratitude and thanksgiving for all that God gives us is also a means of making us aware of our own sinfulness and the need for penitence and conversion of life. Paul emphasises this as he begins his first letter to the Christian Church at Corinth as he looks forward to the return of the Saviour at the end of time to judge the world when he says: `…and he will keep you steady and without blame until the last day, the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, because by God by calling you he has joined you to his Son, Jesus Christ; and God is faithful.`
It is Christ who redeemed us as we find in Paul`s letters to the Romans 3:24, the Galatians 3:13 and the Ephesians 1:7 and that truth is made known to us through the centuries through the teaching of the Church and our own ongoing profession of faith.
Advent has been traditionally known as “The Season of the Four Last Things” which are DEATH, JUDGEMENT, HEAVEN and HELL – we, of course, will all experience the first two, nothing is more certain, our hope is that by the loving mercy of our Judge, who is eternal, we shall be granted a share in Heaven but we must earnestly want it and strive for it by the way of our lives under God`s grace – for we shall never deserve it!
The whole message of Advent, then, as we find in that short passage from St. Mark`s Gospel (Ch. 13 verses 33-37 which we heard a few minutes ago, and where Jesus is addressing his disciples, is that we must be prepared, much less for the secular beano that Christmas has become, than for the second coming of Our Lord at the end of time! We have no indication of when that might be for that is for the Heavenly Father to decide. It may be tonight while we sleep or even before we go to bed so, with urgency if anything needs to be done, we must get on with it – it must be completed for there may be no tomorrow.
At our baptism we received the gift of new life – a new heart and a new spirit and, especially, the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit to help us and guide us through our pilgrim journey of life here on earth. We became also, by the Father`s adoption of each of us and the gift of the grace of the Holy Spirit, sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ! May this holy season of Advent be a time of preparation for each one of us in the expectation of the celebration of the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas, and again at our death, or at the last coming of the Lord in glory, whichever is the earlier.
Have no fear, take the Lord Jesus freshly to heart and be ready to greet him when he calls us home or returns in His power and great glory!
1 – Moses and Elijah
2 – the Prophets of Old
3 – Joh the Baptist
4 – Mary the Mother of the Saviour
5 – Chr ist Incarnate – crucified, Risen ad Glorified