Homily for the First Sunday of Advent, Year A 2019
Advent means happening, coming. It is the beginning of the Church’s Liturgical Year. A season that gathers us to witness how gradually the old year has faded away leaving with us memories of the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ into glory. A season we also gather to witness how the new year is unfolding, inviting us to see, hear and cherish the new life the coming of Christ will offer. Advent is the season we pay attention to what is happening and what is coming.
It is the season when the Church waits expectantly for her Groom, Christ. She waits not in idleness, but in preparation, wonder and joy. She looks inward and asks, what is it that I must get ready for my Groom. What does He like and how am I going to appear before Him? It is the time of devout preparation. It is also the time she wonders who is her Groom? So, she dresses in purple to remind herself that her Groom is the King, which means she does not need to fear nor to be anxious. All she needs to do is to await His coming with joy.
A joy that is evoked by the memory of His first coming. A joy that is founded on the fact that God, the One who speaks in her heart and has promised her the second coming of her Groom is faithful. He keeps His word. He was faithful to the promise He made to Abraham. He was faithful to the promise He made to David His servant. He was faithful to the promises He made to the household of Israel. And He will be faithful to the promise He is making to her today.
So, we gather as her children in that sure and certain hope, and we look up in joyful expectancy. But we also look down, gathering from creation all that speaks to us of our coming King. We gather the evergreen plants and make an Advent Wreath. These plants tell us that the life the King we await, is going to give us will stand the test of time. It will survive the harshness of the winter and the droughts of our lives. It will be ever green, bearing witness to eternal life.
The Advent Wreath is circular, without beginning nor end. Reminding us that the One we await is the I Am. He is eternal. He has no beginning nor end. He lives forever. And He is coming to marry us, to get us into the rhythm of eternity. He is coming to make us characters in God’s Drama and to summon us to act out the script God is writing. So, we must fix our eyes on Christ, who according to the Letter to the Hebrews 12:2 is “the pioneer and perfecter of our Faith.”
On the Advent Wreath, we find four candles. Each of the candles stands for the four Sundays of Advent season. We do not light all the candles at once. We light them one after the other as the Sundays come by. Symbolically, the light signifies Christ. And our action of lighting one candle at a time speaks of the gradual nature of our encounter with the light of Christ. Secondly, it speaks of the nature in which the light of Christ dispels the darkness of sin and division.
The readings today speak of this light. In the first reading from Isaiah 2:1-5, the prophet Isaiah invites us, “O House of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” Come let us be enlightened by the Lord. For it is only when we have been enlightened by the Lord that we will know the difference between the mountain of the Temple of the Lord and the other mountains. Until then, we may continue to make the other mountains: our cares, worries, ambitions etc the priority.
But when are we enlightened by the light of the Lord, every other thing falls into their proper place. The Lord’s mountain towers above the others. And we then give to the Lord our highest worth, beginning with the gift of our whole selves. This is what Moses was on about in Deuteronomy 6: 4-5. “Listen, O Israel: the Lord, our God, is the One Lord. And so you shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength.”
Note: Isaiah was writing at a time when the people of Israel and Judah had lost their mission as a nation and they were drifting away from the Lord because they had turned their backs on His light. They were no longer in the rhythm of eternity. But they were following the rhythm of the times; adopting the gods and the cults of “the powerful nations” around them. They had forgotten how powerful God is because they had become superficial in their faith.
The Church, “the new Israel”, is also aware of the lip service we pay to our faith. She knows the effects our nominal faith is having on us. It is allowing the darkness of despair to creep into our lives, causing us to sleep, to allow other things like our jobs, our children’s events, our grievances, our personal preferences etc to become our gods. She also knows how harmful it is for us to continue to worship these false gods. So, she invites us, “come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
Come, she continues, “let us give up all the things we prefer to do under cover of the dark; let us arm ourselves and appear in the light. Let us live decently as people do in the daytime: no drunken orgies, no promiscuity or licentiousness, and no wrangling or jealousy. Let your armour be the Lord Jesus Christ” (Roman 13:11-14). This is a call for self-discipline; to train ourselves to walk in the light of the Lord, so that we can become players in God’s drama.
It is a call to make a U-turn and get back into the rhythm of eternity. It is a call to live for eternity, to live for the values that transcend the here and now namely keeping the Lord’s Day wholly unto the Lord. It is a call to listen to and obey the One we are awaiting. It is a call to stay awake, not only as individuals, but together as members of the Church praying, receiving Him as He comes to us in His Spoken Word proclaimed at Mass and in the Eucharist, in the events of life and the people we meet, and to be ready to meet Him when He comes in glory.
Fr. Francis Afu