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First Sunday of Advent
December 3, 2017


    There’s a delightful little book called Children’s Letters to God that I pick up every once in a while for a lift or a smile. One of the letters came to mind when I reflected on the scripture readings for this First Sunday of Advent.  It’s from a young girl named Harriet who, I guess you could say, is long on urgency if a bit short on grammar.  Her letter goes like this: “Dear God, are you real?  Some people don’t not believe it. If you are, you’d better do something quick!”

     Children don’t always have a well-developed sense of time and its passage, but Harriet was very clear that time was running out.

     Today’s scriptures are as impatient as Harriet’s letter.  We’ve been waiting too long, they seem to say to God. “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down with the mountains quaking before you! Return, O Lord. For the sake of your servants rouse your power and come to save us. Do not delay!”

     Year after year the Church gives us readings like these during Advent in order to help focus our attention on the coming of Christ.  But what exactly does the coming of Christ mean?  It means at least three things. 

     The meaning we probably think of first is Christmas, the coming of God into our world in the flesh and blood of Jesus. Even though that event took place two millennia ago, we remember and relive it year after year at Christmas Mass, around the Christmas tree, and at the family table. There will be a lot more to say about Christmas in the days and weeks ahead, so in these few moments, I would like to focus on two other comings of Christ: his Second Coming at the end of time, and then, his coming into our lives, our world, now.

     First, his Second Coming.  It’s what Jesus talks about in today’s gospel when he tells us to be alert - constantly on the watch - because we do not know when the time will come.  So I ask you: are you constantly on the watch for Christ’s coming?  Are you even hoping for it?  Do you feel any urgency about it? For most of us, the Second Coming of Christ is off our radar.  Unlike the early Christians who expected it to come any day, the passage of long centuries has made such thoughts unlikely for us – even though at every Mass we do hear a prayer that speaks of awaiting “the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” And often in the Eucharistic acclamation we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again - both clear echoes of the very last words of the New Testament, “Come, Lord Jesus,” which was the frequent, insistent prayer of the early Church.   

     But there’s more. There’s the Lord’s Prayer.  Every time we pray the words, “thy kingdom come,” we are expressing the hope that God’s reign, God’s rule, will take over - that rule which began to be realized in the preaching and ministry of Jesus, but which will not be fully realized until he comes again in glory.

     But “thy kingdom come” also speaks of this time, our time, and that brings us to the third of Christ’s comings. But just what is this kingdom we pray for? One thing is certain: it’s no conventional kingdom, as we were reminded last Sunday. There are no crowns or courts or castles in this kingdom - only people, people longing for God, for justice - neglected people, hurting people, people on the outer margins, the kind of people Jesus spent his time with as he completely redefined the meaning of kingship. He was a king, yes, but a servant-king whose only throne would be crib and cross. His rule would not be about power and its prerogatives, only about justice and peace, healing and wholeness. So every time he healed a sick person or made the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk; every time he awakened the poor to their unique value, or mercifully forgave a broken sinner, Jesus was making the kingdom of God come a little closer. 

     And, my friends, the kingdom continues to come closer in our time through us – through the Church – as we do what Jesus did. He gave hope to the poor and downtrodden, and so must we; he preached a gospel of peace, and so must we; he healed the sick, and so must we.  We may not have the healing power of Jesus but we have our love to give, our time, our presence, our passion.  We take up where Jesus left off. That’s our part in making the kingdom come.

     So we have our work cut out for us, don’t we! And building the kingdom doesn’t stop with our one-on-one relationships, important as they are. God’s rule mist be global as well as personal. So take a look at the present state of our world, the present chaotic state of our world. Do you see much that in any way resembles the kind of kingdom Jesus came to preach?  Look at Myanmar, at Syria, at North Korea; look at our hopelessly divided nation; look at the callous lack of respect for each and every human life; look at the poor and homeless on our streets; look at racial hatred, at the abuse and exploitation of women; look at the plundering of our fragile environment. Any way you look at it, God’s kingdom is light years away from being realized!

     And so, my friends, we must keep praying, “thy kingdom come.  But it won’t do to pray it like young Harriet did (“You’d better do something quick, God!”) because that’s way too passive.  It puts all the onus on God and that’s not the way it works.  Jesus has made us a part of the answer to our own prayer. We have a role to play in making the kingdom come. And that makes “thy kingdom come” not only a very urgent prayer but an agenda, a very demanding agenda for each of us.

      It’s not only God but we who had better do something quick!

Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

 

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