Homily for the 1st Sunday of Advent
Throughout history, there have been countless times when people have said that the end of the world would happen.
- In 1910, people thought that Halley’s Comet was going to crash into the earth resulting in some apocalyptic explosion bringing about the end of civilization as we know it.
- In 1998, there was a group of people who thought that Jesus would come again, appearing in Texas, and take His followers to Heaven on “spaceships disguised as clouds.”
- Who remembers Y2K? In 2000, everyone thought that the beginning of the new millennium was going to cause computer systems around the world to stop functioning, triggering some kind of apocalyptic chaos that would bring about the end of the world.
- In 2011, an American Christian televangelist predicted that the “rapture” would happen and only 3% of the world’s population would survive. When that didn’t happen, this particular televangelist said that the rapture was an “invisible judgment day.”
- Does anyone remember when people thought that Mayan calendar ending was supposed to be a sign that the world would end? That happened in 2012.
- There have even been predictions that used the geometry of the pyramids to come up with a mathematical equation predicting the end of the world.
Despite these various predictions, all of us are still here. The world has not ended and Jesus has not yet returned. While many of these predictions have seemed like comical storylines or ideations of crazy people, they do drive home the message of today’s readings: at some point in history, on a day and at a time when we least expect it, Jesus will return. It’s a message that reminds us that we should be well prepared for that day and “always ready to meet Jesus at all times, either at the end of our lives or at the end of the world.” It’s an encouragement for us to go deeper with the Lord into our hearts.
Today, on this First Sunday of Advent, and on this first day of the new liturgical year, we begin a sort of pilgrimage through the events of salvation history. Advent means “coming.” It is a time when we are invited to reflect on the first coming of Jesus as a baby in Bethlehem on that initial Christmas morning. It’s a call to meditate more deeply on His daily coming into our lives through the Sacraments of the Church, through Scripture, and through the worship of our Christian community. And finally, it is an invitation to remember that Jesus will eventually come again at the end of the world to reward the just and to punish the wicked.
All three of these comings of Christ have the same purpose: to reestablish and deepen our relationship with God. They are meant to cause us to reflect more intently on our lives and how we are living as Christian disciples. In a particular way, in these four weeks leading up to the celebration of Christmas, it is an invitation to pause and examine how we are preparing our hearts for the coming of Jesus.
The Gospel that we have just heard makes that necessity of spiritual preparation abundantly clear. This passage is part of a longer conversation that Jesus has been having with His apostles about His second coming. Up until this point in that dialogue, Jesus has been explaining the age of the Church – that period of history between His resurrection and His second coming – and what that age will look like. He has explained to His Apostles that the age of the Church will be marked by both incredible growth in the number of Christian believers but also by painful persecution. He has described how Jerusalem, the epicenter of the Old Covenant, will be destroyed, making a definitive way for the New Covenant. He has told them that the world itself will eventually be destroyed to make way for the new heavens and the new earth. And then, by referring to the example of Noah, Jesus explains that, although these things definitely will happen, the Apostles, and by extension all of us, can’t know when. Jesus says: “you do not know on which day your Lord will come.”
The Lord wants us to remember that our time is limited. Our lives and history itself will come to an end. He wants us to recognize that reality, because He wants us to use our limited time wisely, living as true Christians. This message is so important to Jesus that He will dedicate four separate parables to it before He finishes this conversation with His Apostles, making sure that they (and we) don’t miss the point. Jesus knew how easily even the most faithful disciple can fall into the trap of thinking that this earthly life is the goal, and not merely the path toward our ultimate end…eternal life with Him.
That’s why He challenges the Apostles in the Gospel. It’s why St. Paul in our second reading challenges the Christian community in Rome. As Christians we must always strive to turn away from sin, to remember the commands of the Lord, to follow His teachings and the teachings of the Church, and to focus on our relationship with Christ. If we don’t live that way, if we get so caught up in the ways of the world and think that this earthly life is all there is, the consequences are eternal and we risk spending eternity separated from God.
So we have to be watchful. We must be prepared for Jesus to come at any moment. But we shouldn’t let that reality instill in us a kind of fear or anxiety. The preface for our Mass today, the prayer that comes before the Sanctus at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer, reminds us that we are people of hope. That prayer will recall how Jesus took on our human flesh in His first coming in order to open the way for us to eternal salvation. And when Jesus comes again in glory, “we who watch for that day may inherit the great promise in which now we dare to hope” (“Preface I of Advent,” Roman Missal).
During this Advent season, there are several ways that we can foster that sense of preparedness and maintain that sense of hope. As a penitential season, I encourage each of us to consider one or two ways that we can offer something in sacrifice for the Lord (that isn’t just reserved to the Lenten Season). Or maybe we can add some time of prayer (5 or 10 minutes) into our daily routines that can foster a deepening in our relationship with the Lord. Make a good confession before Christmas – maybe join us for one of the Advent reconciliation services that we’ll be offering. Dedicate an hour or two a week in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Come to a daily Mass once a week. Offer a daily rosary, especially reflecting on the Joyful Mysteries. I encourage each of us to do something to help us make this season more reflective and fruitful.
So as we begin this new liturgical year and this season of Advent, may each of us hold onto the hope offered to us by Jesus, as we watch and wait for His coming. May it help us to recognize our need for deeper conversion of heart, a recognition that leads us to invite the Lord ever more deeply into our lives. Let this first day of the year mark a new beginning for us, a first step on that path toward eternal life with the Father.
 Fr. Anthony Kadavil, “Reflections for the I Sunday of Advent,” on Vatican News. https://www.vaticannews.va/en/church/news/2019-11/sunday-reflection-vatican-news2.html