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First Sunday of Advent
December 3, 2023

Watch this homily! (Begins at 35:58)

     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 may not have a well-developed sense of the passage of time, 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!”

     Each year, the Church gives us readings like these for Advent to focus our attention on the coming of Christ. But what exactly does the coming of Christ mean? It means three things. 

     The meaning that probably first comes to mind this time of year 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, and around the Christmas tree, and at the family table. There will be a lot more to say about Christmas in the days ahead, so in these few moments, I’m going to focus on the other two comings of Christ: his Second Coming at the end of time, and then, his coming into our lives, our world, right 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 pray “with joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” And often in the Eucharistic acclamation we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again. Both are clear echoes of the very last words of the New Testament, “Come, Lord Jesus,” - the frequent, fervent prayer of the early Church.  

     And 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 only be fully realized when 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, we might ask, just what is this kingdom we pray for? Well, as we were reminded last Sunday, it is no conventional kingdom. There are no crowns, courts, or castles - only people, people longing for God, longing for justice - neglected people, hurting people, people on the outer margins, the people Jesus spent his time with as he redefined the meaning of kingship. He was a king, yes, but a servant-king whose throne would be crib and cross. And 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 see, the deaf hear, the lame walk; every time he awakened the poor to their unique value, or 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 you and me who are the Church. It comes 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 compassion. We take up where Jesus left off. That’s how we make 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 must 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 resembles the kind of kingdom Jesus came to preach?  Look at Ukraine, Israel, Gaza, Iran, North Korea; look at our desperately divided nation; look at the callous lack of respect for each and every human life; look at the homeless people on our streets; look at racial hatred, at the abuse and exploitation of women; look at the plundering of our fragile planet. 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 and urgent 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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