Sunday, November 29, 2015

"Heads up!" Homily for the First Sunday of Advent

Advent – 1                 Homily:  Fr. Bill Bowling              November 29, 2015
Jeremiah 33:14-16   Psalm 25        1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2    Luke 21:25-28,34-36

Happy New Liturgical year everybody!  It is Advent once again.  Today we begin intense preparation for the coming of Jesus.  Advent is the Holy Spirit’s way of saying to us all – “heads up!”  Jesus is coming soon!

The gospel of Luke is our spiritual guide for the new liturgical year.  All through this year St. Luke will help us to become better disciples of Jesus.  Today Jesus gives us this message of preparation.  So let’s take a look at what our “heads up” is for this Sunday.

1.  Jesus said, “There will be signs.”  Jesus talked about lots of signs in the world heralding his coming.  Nature will proclaim it.  Signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars.  Remember -- it was this way at his birth.  Consider – this past year we saw the closest conjunction of Jupiter and Venus since around the time of Jesus – so much so that even the secular press called it “the Bethlehem Star.”  Consider – this past year and a half we have had 4 lunar eclipses, sometimes called a “blood moon.  This was a rather rare phenomena called a lunar tetrad.  There has been lots of buzz about this on social media.  And there have been other signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars.    Jesus assured us that there will be further accompanying signs to herald his second coming.  For sure – there will be signs.

2.  It will come at just the right time.  When Jesus was born, it was in the fullness of time.  His coming heralded the advent of the new and eternal covenant established through his death and resurrection.  When he comes again, it will be at just the right time.  Jesus said that, “the nations will be in dismay.”  It seems like the time is becoming ripe for the second coming of Jesus.  St. Faustina, the great mystic of the 20th century wrote of this age being a special time of mercy.  On December 8 we celebrate the Year of Mercy – a special invitation to enter through his door of Mercy.  Afterwards he will come as the just judge.   It is the same for us individually - he comes in mercy and justice at the end of our own time.

Now, some people react individually to these words of Jesus with fear. Jesus says that, “nations will be in dismay.  People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” In fact, one can see elements of this prophecy unfolding in various places in the world today.  For those who don’t know the ways of God, they will have mortal fear of what is happening now and what is coming soon. 

Not so for the disciple who listens to these next words of Jesus.  For those who have faith in Jesus, he gives these words of encouragement.  “Stand up, raise your heads, because your redemption is at hand.”  So heads up folks!  This second part of the homily is focused on how to wait in joyful hope for the coming of Jesus.

First, Jesus gives a warning to his own disciples.  He said “beware that your hearts do not become drowsy.”  This is a problem for many people.  The practice of faith becomes lax.  People drift away from the church.  Jesus cites two reasons for why people get spiritually drowsy.

1.  First – “Carousing and drunkenness.”  That is to say, people get caught up in feeding their own appetites. The entertainment empires make massive profits from our endless appetite for pleasure and entertainment.  So let’s check ourselves.  Do we have a tendency to “numb out” through excessive entertainment?  Are we too attached to our smart phones?  The internet?  Excessive food?  Do we use narcotics or alcohol to try and feel better?  Do we use people for personal pleasure through sexual excess or manipulation?  All of these things are a kind of “carousing and drunkenness” and make us spiritually drowsy – opening the door to spiritual death.

2.  Second - “anxieties of daily life.”  People get caught up in over-work - the desire for profit or success at all costs.  We get distracted by the daily struggle to make a living.  Meanwhile because of injustices the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  Once again we have been subjected to our national shame that is the Black Friday shopping orgy.  In all of this we forget the spiritual life.  We neglect the things that are truly important.  And so we drift away from closeness to Jesus and His Church.  Through the anxieties of daily life we are distracted - spiritually drowsy, opening the door to spiritual death.

After this warning Jesus gives his disciples two things to do.  “Be Vigilant.  And Pray.”

Vigilance.  It is not a fearful watching.  To understand vigilance, let’s look at the second reading, from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians to see the fuller message here.  St. Paul says, “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all.”  The practice of love and kindness is an important form of vigilance.  Consider that the loving person is always vigilant in caring for others.  They are prepared to care for others, providing food, shelter, and encouragement.  If you want to be a “prepper” in this age – then St. Paul’s example is the Christian way of doing it.  This kind of vigilance – being prepared to care for others, is always pleasing to God.  The vigilant person knows how to prepare in fulfilling the call to love and care for others.  Jesus said it.  Let’s do it.  Be vigilant.

Prayer.  When we humbly kneel before God in prayer, then we can withstand anything.  God himself strengthens us.  The time of tribulation is upon the earth and is coming increasingly, like the pangs of birth.  In this, the true disciple of Jesus knows that as these signs come, our redemption is quite near.  Jesus himself comes to rescue us.  The praying disciple will know these things, because that person is intent on hearing the voice of Jesus our Good Shepherd.  The person who loves Jesus will seek him in prayer.   Jesus said it.  Let’s do it.  Pray.

May we as followers of Jesus greet these signs of the times with heads raised high, confident that God always keeps his promises.  Our redemption is at hand.  The fullness of God’s kingdom is very near now.

It truly is Advent once again - the coming of our God in glory to save us.  We are the people who wait in joyful hope.  So, good people, “heads up!”  Jesus is coming soon. 

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