First Sunday of Advent – Fr. Pete Iorio
December 1, 2019 – 8:30 & 11:00 Masses
One Sunday after Church, a mother was talking to her young daughter. She told her daughter that, according to the Bible, Jesus will return to earth someday. “When is he coming back?” the daughter asked. “I don’t know,” replied the mother. “Can’t you look it up on the Internet?” the little girl asked.
We read in Scripture that the Son of Man will come and we are told to prepare. We are also told that we know not the day nor the hour. At the time of the writing of the Gospels, many thought it would be imminent, during their lifetimes. Obviously not the case. Christians over time still try to determine when he is coming back…many of us remember the big scare as the year 2000 approached. How foolish we can be! Yet, our Advent prayer is Maranatha – Come Lord, Jesus. It is a prayer of longing, of patient waiting, and of preparation.
Advent is the beginning of the new Church year. It is a twofold coming: we prepare by remembering his first coming as a baby in Bethlehem. And we prepare for his second coming whenever that may be.
It is a very strange reading assigned for the beginning of the church year. The focus is on the second coming of Christ in history. The key to understanding which may shock and confuse some of you is that history will not end with disaster but toward something good. Those who traveled for Thanksgiving know that you have a destination in mind. It is good to know where you are going and how to get there. The Church gives us the destination as “the coming of the Son of Man.” It is a good destination. We have the goal in mind.
Ultimately, the kingdom of God, the destination of history, will be fulfilled with salvation. The trajectory is toward the positive. It will not end with apocalypse or Armageddon or huge destruction. As with Noah and the Ark, God will save. It is difficult with our logical mind not to hear this reading as a threat. We so often read religious texts as God threatening us… we better be good or else we will get our come uppance.
While the ultimate goal is good, we already know that throughout history, there have been terrible things on earth that have happened. Christians are not to let these events deter us from doing our part to usher in the Kingdom of God, which always involves loving God, working for justice and loving our neighbor. God gave us the great gift of freedom and invites us into a relationship of love. Perfect love casts out all fear, the Bible says. Jesus preached this so often in the Gospels. As we hear today’s Gospel with these seeming predictions of destruction, let us be grounded in the truth that the Son of Man arrived the first time in a hostile world. He saved us through suffering on the cross and my faith tells me that this will not change for His second coming.
As with most Scripture, there are multiple meanings. One level is the message for history and that is that the future will hold something good. Christ will return in glory and take us with him. Without hope for history, there is not hope for the individual.
The other level is hope for the individual. This looks like God returning as a thief in the night. It is a common image for God in the Gospels. Another image is the master coming back when you are not ready. It looks threatening. It is made more clear in Luke’s version. The lord will put on an apron and kneel down and wait on you. So the breaking in is actually good.
For the individual, God gets into your life best in the interruptions; in the discontinuities, in the unexpected, in the gaps. When it happens is often when you are doing something in your ordinary routine and the veil parts. You weren’t expecting a spiritual experience or insight, but you know deep inside your soul that God has broken in. God often steals in to ambush us when we are not all defended and in our head.
These Scriptures are challenging to understand. To read them and understand them at a literal level is not the best level. Today, they have the possibility of leaving us with a message of fear, not to encounter the God of love.
I invite us to go deeper. On a spiritual level, it takes time to pray over it; to study the Scripture and to compare the texts so that you can understand at a deeper level. The meditation booklets we provide for Advent contain wisdom from spiritual seekers and guides: Pope Francis, Saint Teresa of Kolkota and Fr. Henri Nouwen lived the faith in deep ways. The booklet contains some of their wisdom. There are some still available in the narthex. That would be one way to ponder the mysteries and spiritual truths of our faith.
Another way to prepare is to sit in silence… to wait on the Lord. We have an invitation to do that with 40 Hours devotion which will be next weekend. There is a sign up in the narthex. Spend time with the Eucharistic Lord and allow Him to enter more deeply into your heart. Let us be intentional about preparing to meet Christ this Advent season.