1st SUNDAY OF ADVENT YEAR A HOMILY 2023
STAY AWAKE – BE ALERT AS PEOPLE OF HOPE AND ACTION
Mt 24.37-44 Is 2.1-5 Rom 13.11-14
Well, another Church year passes and we’re back to Year B, which is Mark’s year, occasionally amplified by John. What are we waiting for? During the week, someone was bemoaning the fact that, while it is all very well to have Christmas in July, Christmas in November was becoming the norm, and getting a bit much, but obviously related to the commercial world of specials and sales luring buyers in to spend more money, which we need to concede, does make the world go around! The point is it’s not the be all and end all for those who try to have a balanced approach to family, work and life in general. The trouble is that we are into a time of getting ready and being prepared for the run, or rather rush, into Christmas, in the shortest possible Advent season we can have, given Christmas is on a Monday this year!
It’s a busy enough time for me, after a quieter few weeks, including the happy celebration at OLN last weekend of Tom Christie’s First Mass of Thanksgiving, after his ordination, but with 3 Aged Care home Masses, 3 Advent school Masses, a grade 6 Graduation Mass here at St Therese’s and 2 more funerals this coming week, not to forget 6 Baptisms last weekend and 6 more in 2 weeks, hopeful signs for the future. They say there’s no rest for the wicked, irrespective of age, so I guess there’s the proof!! It’s thanks to those providing the backup support in so many ways. There’s not much choice about staying awake and being in action, given the ongoing demands of pastoral service, but that’s what it’s all about.
Today’s Gospel is short and sharp, with Jesus reminding us of the uncertainty of life and what tomorrow might bring. From the last week’s Last Judgement according to Matthew, and the very concrete and practical demands of basic Christianity, providing service to those in need in human terms, from hunger to thirst to warmth to welcome to outreach, Jesus sums up the criteria by which we are to be judged as to having lived a faithful Christian life as his followers. Once again, I say there’s nothing here about the details of rituals and rules. We know they are part of the deal, but not at the heart of it all, as we look to his law of love.
Now we have some continuity, with Mark more than likely reflecting on dark events which have occurred since Jesus’ public ministry and resurrection, as his followers struggle to continue on, proclaiming his message of love and forgiveness, acceptance and welcome, yet perseverance and suffering at times. By the time Mark is putting pen to paper or papyrus, the Jewish revolt of 68-70AD has been crushed by the Romans, the Temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed, with Vespasian as emperor, and graft and corruption rife in Rome. Things are not looking too bright at all, in any direction.
So Mark is writing in difficult and dark times, wondering where things were going, and with the hope that Jesus would return on the clouds within a generation. This is the apocalyptic style, but there are no certainties here, apart from life going on, whatever the circumstances, and with human mortality as the one clear reality. So here we are 2000+ years on, in a troubled and divided, yet wonderful, world. There’s no use just keeping out of trouble, hiding in a corner holding our heads with eyes closed, or looking up at the clouds hoping for Jesus to appear again! As we heard of the last judgement account, what we do for others, we do to him too. His call is to recognize him in one another, and to live accordingly.
Then there is the lovely image of the prophet Isaiah presented today, where we, as humanity, are described as the clay, with which God as the potter shapes us as the work of his hand. This is not about predestination, however, as it is up to us, given a start with potential, but left to find knowledge and truth, and exercise free will and conscience accordingly, applying Gospel values.
Following on from last week’s theme, Claude Mostowik MSC says: “Advent challenges us to believe that the world as it is does not reflect God’s dream, who wants us to dream together of something new by working together for a world where all people have their dignity respected and basic needs met. This threatens those most invested in resisting change, but following Jesus means being serious about our role in the world of making it possible for God to get into the world.”
And Brendan Byrne’s take helps too: “Not that we take the NT allusions to the future coming of Jesus in a literal sense, as though Jesus were suddenly one day to appear on a cloud, summoning the world, with a trumpet blast, to judgement. We leave that understanding to fundamentalist sects. (What the statements about the Lord’s coming, in all their richness of imagery and symbol, communicates is the truth that our lives and indeed the whole of history, stand under the eventual judgement of God and that the Crucified One, our now risen Lord, remains the criterion of what true human existence should be. His grace and power continually knock at the door of our lives, seeking to move us along his way.) It is this sense of the Lord’s coming that the Advent season proclaims and celebrates.”
And so, with John the Baptist on the way, we begin to prepare the Way of the Lord, for the coming Christmas season but first Advent, as people of faith and hope and action!
john hannon 3rd December 2022