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The First Sunday of Advent
December 1, 2019

 

 
    Exactly one month from now, on the first of January, the world will usher in the New Year with fireworks, fanfare, and festivities, but in the Church, today is New Year’s Day. So, for once, we can claim that the Church is ahead of the rest of the world, that the Church has a head start on things! We do. We’ve got an entire month to get ready for what lies ahead.

     So, are you ready to get ready? Are you ready for the wake-up call that is Advent? Ready to “wake from sleep,” to use St. Paul’s words in today’s reading from Romans? Ready to “throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light?” Ready to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ?”

     In those few verses from the Letter to the Romans we got our Advent agenda. It’s about waking up and getting ready for what is to come.  And what is it that is to come?  Ask your kids or grandkids. They know. They’ve done the math. I’m willing to bet they know exactly how many days there are till Christmas. So the first answer to the question, ‘what is it that is to come?’ is Christmas.  And we’ve got almost a month to get ready for it, a month of Advent.  For kids, that’s probably too long; for the rest of us, it’s probably not long enough, thanks to all the demands and expectations of Christmas.

     But, my friends, Christmas is not the only thing that is coming. The reading from Matthew’s gospel made that clear.  Jesus spoke repeatedly in the reading about “the coming of the Son of Man,” and he wasn’t, of course, talking about Christmas. He was talking of other comings altogether: his coming at the end of our lives, and his coming at the end of time, the Second Coming. Stay awake for those comings, Jesus says, for they will happen when you least expect them.

     Sobering thoughts for a joyful season. No wonder we tend to overlook them and make of Advent – if we make much of it at all – little more than a countdown to Christmas.  Christmas is a coming we can deal with, after all, even if it can be kind of a frantic and breathless. But the other comings?  Not so much.

     That’s why we need the reminder we get in today’s scriptures. We need to hear St. Paul tell us that “it is the hour for you to rise from sleep for your salvation is nearer now than when you first believed.” In other words, ‘time’s a wasting.’ Get with the program. And what is the program? St. Paul gives us that, too. He tells us to “throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” – to conduct ourselves in the light of day and not under the cover of darkness.  Then he zeroes in on what we must do most of all – on what I think of as the real program of Advent: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” he says.

     And, my friends, that shouldn’t be so hard to do because we’ve already done it, or at least we’ve begun to. Putting on Christ is what happened to us at our baptism. It is. At our baptism Jesus Christ became closer to us than the clothes we wear. He became our companion, our friend, our life. But how easily we forget! How easily we lose sight of who we are and of who Christ is and where Christ is.  That’s one good reason why we need a season like Advent. Advent reminds us of who we are and of where Christ fits into our lives, Advent opens our eyes to all the comings of Christ – his coming at Christmas, yes, but also his coming at our death and his coming at the end of time. We need to keep each of them on our radar.

     But there’s still another coming of Christ that Advent wants us to look at, too.  Not just Christmas, not just our death, and not just the Second coming.  There is also Christ’s coming into our world right now. Today. And that’s where today’s beautifully poetic reading from Isaiah comes in - that glorious vision of all the nations of the earth streaming together up God’s holy mountain, leaving behind the works of darkness, walking in the light of the Lord, raising the sword and training for war no longer, beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. That great vision has to do with now. Isaiah’s words are more than a tantalizing vision from long ago: they are also a stirring call to us at this very moment to get involved in building God’s kingdom, making God’s reign a reality.  We do this by pursuing the works of justice and the works of peace. Our advocacy for justice, our passion for peace, make real and concrete the coming of Christ in our time, our world. Don’t we pray time and again in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come…on earth as it is in heaven”? That’s what I’m talking about. We actually have a hand in making God’s kingdom come here and now - on this earth. In fact, God actually depends on us to make that happen, amazing as that might seem!

     So now we have the final piece of the Advent puzzle. Advent is about Christ’s coming at Christmas, at our death, and at the end of time, but it’s also about his coming in our time. Let me take this out of the realm of theory and point to a couple of examples where I see God’s Kingdom getting built. 

     One is on the grand scale. I think of Pope Francis on his visit to Japan just a week ago when he stood before the world and before bombed out buildings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki incinerated by the atomic bomb in 1945 and, echoing Isaiah’s words about “swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks,” denounced not only the use of nuclear weapons but their very possession. “Nuclear war never again,” he said, and he then stated unequivocally that the Catechism of the Catholic Church needs to be revised so as to proclaim once and for all the absolute immorality of the use or even the possession of nuclear bombs.

     Of course, those of us who remember our own Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen know that he gave that exact same message 40 years ago. He was met with a lot of derision as, I’m sure Pope Francis was and will be, but both were awakening people to how God’s kingdom gets built, and how it doesn’t. Stepping back from the brink of nuclear warfare is putting in place another building block for God’s kingdom.   '

     On a much more modest level, I would point out things that you are doing and can do during these Advent days to help build God’s kingdom right now. They are small things, but not insignificant. There’s our young adult sock drive for homeless people, our Giving Tree for people who won’t overwise have Christmas, our youth group’s annual toy drive to make Christmas possible for migrant kids up in the Skagit, and there’s our wonderful St. Vincent de Paul outreach to the poor. Each of these is a sign of love, for sure, but each is also a work of justice, each is a little building block of God’s kingdom: a way of narrowing the great and growing gap between rich and poor that is such an ongoing scandal in our society. And each step we take to narrow that gap is a step toward realizing the great, almost outlandish dream of Isaiah of all the human family, pursuing the works of justice and together, walking the path of peace to the mountain of the Lord.

      My friends, it’s Advent. Time to wake up. Time to get ready for the coming of Christ. No, the comings of Christ!

Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

 

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Seattle, Washington  98104
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