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Christ is here

December 7, 2014

priest-giving-communion-to-a-young-girl
A reflection for the 2nd Sunday in Advent, Year B. The readings are Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11, Psalm 85, 2 Peter 3:8-14 and Mark 1:1-8.

Do you know the Lord’s Prayer in Latin? Pater noster (our Father), qui es in caelis (who art in Heaven), sanctificetur nomen tuum (hallowed be thy name). Now this is the line I want to share with you: Adveniat regnum tuum. It means, “Thy Kingdom come,” or “may your Kingdom come.” The verb “to come” is “Adveniat” in Latin. Adveniat. Sounds familiar? That’s where we get the word “Advent.” It means “to come”, “coming”. That’s what we pray every time we say the Lord’s Prayer: We are praying for the Advent of our Lord: the Second Coming.

And what do we do when we’re expecting someone who’s coming? I don’t know about you, but we clean the house. In fact, we only clean when someone is coming. Actually, we periodically invite people over, just to force us to clean – otherwise we would never clean! And we don’t just clean, but we also de-clutter. We take all the stuff off the table; we sort it; get rid of the stuff we should have gotten rid of weeks ago and the other stuff gets put away somewhere where no one can see it. That’s what we do at Advent: we clean; we de-clutter; we take out the trash. That’s why Advent is a penitential season. That’s why we wear purple. But it’s different than Lent. Lent is penitential in a sacrificial way: We focus on prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Advent is penitential in an “anticipation” kind of way. We are preparing with anticipation for a special guest.

It used to be that Advent would be referred to as “the little Lent” and it would also be a time for fasting. Eastern Rite Churches still have a tradition of fasting for the last 10 days of Advent. In a way, this is an appropriate way to prepare and clean house. We de-clutter by fasting. We get rid of all the things that are not essential so we can focus on what is essential. We fast so that we can enjoy the Feast. (That’s the main problem with the whole “beginning Christmas after Thanksgiving” phenomenon. We’ve taken out the fast and so we don’t really enjoy the Feast.)

This is why Isaiah tells the Israelites to make straight in the desert the highway; to make the mountains low and raise the valleys. Just like a developer getting the land ready for a new subdivision, we want to get rid of the obstacles and distractions and make the way of the Lord straight.

John the Baptist does the same thing. He is the voice in the desert reminding us to “prepare the way of the Lord” and “make straight his paths”. And John is very clear about the one thing we must do to prepare: Repent.

Repentance is a word that means to “turn back”, “turn your life around”, “return”. The word in Greek is “metanoia”. It means “change of mind or heart”. And so repentance means turn back to God. It is Isaiah’s message to return to God’s ways. That’s why during Advent many parishes have extra opportunities for people to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation or they even have Reconciliation Services. Advent is the perfect time to be reconciled. What better way to clean house?

There is also a Greek word that is used in the New Testament to mean adventus. And that is the word “parousia.” It means coming, arrival or presence. It literally means, “being near.” This is the word used to refer to the Second Coming, the “parousia” but because of the meaning of the word, it is clear that for early Christians, the Second Coming, the first coming and the presence was all one and the same: Christ came, Christ is constantly coming, Christ will come and Christ is here. This word, for early Christians was how they described the Eucharist. When we speak today of the “Real Presence” in the Eucharist, early Christians would have used the word “parousia.” It is the same word that means Advent. We are praying for the Advent (Parousia) every time we say the Lord’s Prayer and we are celebrating the Advent (Parousia) every time we gather for the Eucharist. Because Christ came, Christ is coming, Christ will come and Christ is here.

That is why we clean house. But not just during these four weeks of the year. Rather, Advent is a time when we are reminded that we need to be repenting, returning, changing our hearts, making the mountains low and raising the hills, cleaning house and de-cluttering, all the time. This is why last week I gave you homework. How is that going? Remember? The Examen:
Take 10 minutes every day. Collect your thoughts in quiet. Place yourself in God’s presence (parousia/Advent). Thank God for the blessings of the day. Then ask God for light. Ask him to give you the light so you may see and love this day as he sees and loves it. Then think about your day. Mentally go through your day thinking about what you did and did not do; what you said or didn’t say. Where are the moments of selflessness and the moments of selfishness? When did Jesus come to you today? Did you recognise him? Then thank Jesus for coming to you today and for the times of selflessness. Ask for forgiveness for the times you didn’t recognise him and for the times of selfishness. Then ask for the Grace that you need so that you can do better tomorrow.

It’s funny because this homily when I’m supposed to be speaking about preparing has been the one when I feel the least prepared. I found it very hard to prepare. I found myself constantly procrastinating. Isn’t that how it goes? Especially when it comes to the hard stuff, the “cleaning house”; the “going to Confession”; the “doing the Examen”… Isn’t it good that St. Peter in his second letter tells us that God is patient? He will wait “not wishing any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” That’s Good News too.

If we make our daily lives an Advent we will find that we too can be like John the Baptist and be the voice crying out in the wilderness. We can be, as Isaiah says, the “herald of glad tidings”, the ones who “cry out at the top of our voice from the mountain top” proclaiming the Good News that Christ has come, Christ is coming, Christ will come and Christ is here.

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From → English, Reflections

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