1st SUNDAY OF ADVENT YEAR A HOMILY 2022
WAKE UP – BE ALERT AND PEOPLE OF HOPE
Mt 24.37-44 Is 2.1-5 Rom 13.11-14
Well, another Church year passes and we’re back to Year A, which is Matthew’s year. So we begin with some slightly scary stuff about the end times, yet again, after last week’s ending with Christ the King as triumphant, despite the tragedy of the Cross! The return of Jesus was forecast to be within a generation or two, but by now I think we have got over the fact that’s not going to happen in our lifetimes, so let’s not hold our breath, and get in with living life well as we prepare for the reality of Christmas celebrations, at the heart of it, of course, the birth of Jesus among us!
In a reflection in the English Catholic journal The Tablet, titled “Addicted to Hope”, Benedictine Bishop Hugh Gilbert OSB of Aberdeen, provides a hopeful insight into the season: “Despite all the shadows that loom over the world and over our own fears, the season of Advent is a reminder that our God-given orientation to goodness breaks through again and again, like smiles after tears and greenness through cracks in concrete”, and so a better future. And doesn’t Leonard Cohen have a song about there being a crack in everything, because that’s how the light gets in?!
On Friday, I celebrated Mass at Ave Maria College, with students in Years 10&11 and staff, as they gathered in gratitude for another year of growth and learning. The spirit was positive as they looked back, and also forward, to further opportunities for time with families and friendships. I used a simple story titled “Rain before Rainbows”, as a reflection on the ups and downs of life and growth.
We look at a world fraught with conflict and uncertainty, climate change an issue to the fore, as it’s the future of our youth that we see impacted by these issues. The deniers are out there for sure, but the facts remain that action must be taken to ensure a better future for all 8 billion humans on this precious planet earth we call home. It is just not right to live for the day, ignoring the consequences for those who follow us.
Back to the beginning of the prophet Isaiah today, in a lovely poetic reflection, we have the hopeful and positive image of swords being recast into ploughshares, and spears into sickles, such that there will be no more war and conflict between different peoples, and that peace and good will may prevail. Wishful thinking, we might well consider now, when we look at the state of the world today.
A great irony, to my mind, is that outside the UN building in Manhatten New York, is a striking sculpture, depicting the very image Isaiah portrays, donated by the USSR, the old Soviet Union, in the late 1950’s, as a good will gesture to the peoples of the world, and a message of solidarity in working for peace. Yet, only a few years later, in 1962, we had the Cuban Missile Crisis, and now there is the ongoing invasion of Ukraine by Russia, with winter coming and power supplies under threat in the bitter cold. When will humanity learn, we may well wonder? Good intentions and pious thoughts are just not enough to resolve the problems.
From early church times, Gospel passages like today’s, led some Christian disciples to anticipate the return of Jesus with the thought that the main thing was to lie low, keeping out of trouble and avoiding sin, which was all very well in itself, but hardly sufficient motivation to live an active Christian life as an agent of change, in terms of evangelizing and influencing others to commit to Christian faith and life.
Jesus’ message of building the kingdom of justice, love and peace, here and now, should be very much a part of our role in our world, as we interpret and respond to the signs of the times, as “The Church in the Modern World” or “Gaudium et spes” proclaimed at the end of Vatican II in 1965. We are not just passive observers, escaping the harsh realities of life, relying on spiritual consolation and awaiting the end, which will certainly be our own end, in terms of mortality, rather than the return of Jesus, otherwise known as the ‘Parousia’, and the end of the world, which is not our worry.
Today’s sermon of Jesus is eschatological, in terms of looking towards future salvation, but an immediate reminder of the need to act now. “Watchfulness, eschatological alertness to the will of God” is the way the Jerome Biblical Commentary puts it, in heavy theological terms! But I’d suggest ‘Be alert and prepared for action’ is the message we are called to respond to, as faithful disciples. We just don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
I just refer to a recent tragedy, where Alistair, the 38 year old son of old friends from Monash Uni days, loving husband and father of 2 young children, died suddenly and unexpectedly a week ago. Life is so fragile and precious, and can be so unfair.
Daniel Berrigan SJ, social justice advocate and anti-war pacifist campaigner from the 1960’s says: “So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope. Let us see visions of love, peace and justice. Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ – the Life of the world.”
And good old Claude Mostowik MSC has some helpful insights too: “As we begin this new Christian year, let us see ordinary things with extraordinary vision. Let us see God at work, even and especially in the most ordinary of places. Let us have hope in God who lives here and now with us, teaching us real peacefulness in our ordinary lives.- and who asks us to be extraordinary witnesses to that peace. Pope Francis, like Isaiah, tells that though things seem to be in a mess, it is not the end of the world. It is the beginning.”
And so 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 27th November 2022