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Christ is coming soon!

December 2, 2012

My homily for the 1st Sunday, Advent C
Jeremiah 33:14-16
Thessalonians 3:12-4:2
Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

If you’re asking “what’s up with all these readings about doom and destruction?” and, “didn’t we just hear this Gospel two weeks ago?” I’m glad you asked…

The prophet Jeremiah spent all his life telling the people of Israel that there was going to be doom and destruction if they didn’t change their ways. That’s not a popular message. Imagine if Obama instead of running his campaign on the promise of hope, had run it on a message of doom and destruction: “if you don’t shape up and stop spending money you don’t have, you’re going to lose your homes and the market is going to crash!” Not a popular message. Jeremiah didn’t want to proclaim it but those were the words that came out of his mouth. And the people of Israel did not listen and things were pretty disastrous. The Kingdom was again divided: The kingdom had been united under King David and it was still united under his son, Solomon, but after Solomon, it was a free-for-all. If you like TV shows like Camelot or HBO’s Rome, you should read the books of Kings and Chronicles. It was all power grabs and jealousies and murders and war, even among families. And so the Kingdom was again divided. There was the northern Kingdom of Israel, where Samaria is and the southern Kingdom of Judah, where Jerusalem is. And no one was following God’s commandments; in fact God’s commandments are completely forgotten. And to top it off, the Assyrians invade, take over the land, destroy the temple and exile everyone to Babylon. First the kingdom of Israel falls, and then the kingdom of Judah.

Jeremiah was alive at the time of the exile. This is one of the lowest points in the history of the Jewish people: They are without a king, without a kingdom, without a temple – the temple which was the centre of Jewish life – they are without a land – the promised land that God gave them – and God seems to have completely abandoned them. For the Jewish people, that was the end of the world.

And does Jeremiah say, “I told you so – see what happens when you don’t listen to me.” No. He doesn’t.  He then focuses on the other part of the message: Hope and redemption. And so we get beautiful passages like today’s first reading: The house of Israel and the house of Judah will be united and god will fulfill his promise to the house of Judah and the house of Israel. And a branch will sprout from the stump of David – that huge tree of David had been destroyed, but out of the stump that’s left, a branch will sprout. The Jewish people believe this to point to the Messiah and Christians – that’s us – we believe that it points to the Christ. But the Jewish exile was 600 years before Christ – that’s a long time to wait for things to get better, so what do you do while you’re waiting?

St. Paul tells us exactly what to do while we’re waiting, in today’s second reading from the Letter to the Thessalonians. Paul wrote two letters to the Christians in Thessalonica, which is in Greece. In fact the city still exists in the northern part of Greece, in Macedonia – it’s called Salonica today. It’s the second largest city in Greece. Paul had spent some time in Thessalonica, and he writes them, mainly to encourage them and to clarify a few things. One of these had to do with the second coming of Christ. Early Christians, and even Paul, believed that Christ was going to come very soon; in the next month or next year – or at least in their own lifetime. But the people in Thessalonica, for some reason, where thinking that Jesus was going to come back very, very soon: Next week. And so they stopped going to work and were just doing nothing but waiting. And Paul tells them that they need to be ready, but they can’t stop living – they need to keep working. All they need to do while they’re waiting, is exactly what they’ve been doing all along: Living lives that please God and abounding in love for each other and for all. Seems a bit simple – I guess it is. That’s what we have to do – just what we’re doing: Living lives pleasing to God. I like that, ‘cause it’s not rocket science. It’s simple and I can do it. You can do it. We can all live lives pleasing to God and abound in love for one another and for all.

Now Jesus adds one more element in today’s Gospel. If today’s Gospel sounds familiar to you, it’s because you’ve been paying attention. Two weeks ago we heard the same exact passage – except it was from the Gospel of Mark. Today it’s from the Gospel of Luke – we’re now in Year C, so we’re reading the Gospel of Luke. Jesus is not speaking about the end of time; he’s speaking about the destruction of the temple. Not the destruction of the temple 600 years before by the Assyrians, but the second destruction by the Romans.

At the time of Jesus Israel was occupied by Rome. And there were Jewish rebellions sprouting up here and there until eventually in the year 66 (30 years after the resurrection there was a major rebellion and the Emperor Nero dispatched an army to put an end to that. This lasted until the year 68 when the troops focused their attention to Jerusalem and in the year 70 they destroy the Temple. In fact, they pretty much destroy everything. The whole city of Jerusalem is burned down and they kill everyone who was there. Thousands, and thousands of people were killed. Those who survived were enslaved. In fact, two weeks ago, in the Gospel of Mark, we heard Jesus telling the disciples not to stay in Jerusalem, to go to the hills – this is why a lot of Christians survived – because they had run to the hills. Jewish people refer to this as the destruction of the second temple – remember, the first temple was destroyed by the Assyrians, 600 years before – and the second Jewish exile, because after this destruction, the Jewish people were scattered throughout the world as they still are today. For the Jewish people, that was the end of the world.

And Jesus says that when we see these signs we will know that our redemption is at hand. What are the signs? Death and destruction, but there’s been disaster and destruction everywhere since Adam and Eve had that little chat with the serpent. There’s disaster and destruction today – we don’t have to wait for the end of the world. Today, there are people dying in Syria and Egypt. Today there are people being murdered in every major city of the United States. Every week there is a murder in Toronto. Every day somebody dies in a tragic accident. Every day children are being abused, neglected and abandoned by the same adults who should love and protect them. Today there are marriages breaking up and people losing their jobs – today there are people being diagnosed with cancer and other terrible diseases. Today there are famines, starvation, droughts, floods, earthquakes, wars… we don’t have to wait to the end of the world. The signs are here: Our redemption is at hand.

And are we ready? No we’re not. We’re too busy with our anxieties and being selfish and worrying about our own little petty needs. Jesus says, when you see these signs – that’s all the time – we need to be alert. The Son of Man may come when you least expect it and we’re asleep. But we comfort ourselves, like the people in Jeremiah’s time, that the Messiah is not really coming any time soon. But I guess, the good news is that Jesus is not coming next week, or next month. He’s not coming next year or even in 10 years. The Good News is that Jesus is coming… in about 15 minutes – as He does at every Mass!

And how will we receive Him? Jesus tells us, “stand up straight with your heads held high.” We’re going to come up, standing up straight, with our heads held high, with our hands outstretched. If we receive Him in the hand, we are going to have both hands up high – not down low like we’re ashamed. We’re going to look up – don’t look down, like you’re being punished. Look up at Him whom you are about to receive. And with both hands – not just one hand like we’re checking to see if there’s a leak. Both hands, head high and we’re going to say, AMEN. The priest, deacon or Eucharistic minister says, “The body of Christ” and you will say “Amen”. Don’t say it before the priest says “the body of Christ” – say it as a response: “The Body of Christ”, “Amen”. That means, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are present. Yes Lord I want to receive you. Yes Lord, I am ready to receive you.”

This is something we need to remember today and every day of the year. We need to remember this every time we go to Mass and receive the Eucharist. We have to remember it even if we are not able to receive the Eucharist. But especially, we have to remember it during Advent when we are preparing our hearts for Christmas. Because Advent is not just a preparation for the birthday of Jesus. Advent is a preparation for the coming of Christ. And he’s coming very soon. Are you ready?

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From → English, Reflections

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