Homily for Sunday, 28 November 2010
First Sunday of Advent: Is 2:1-5. Rom 13:11-14. Mt 24:37-44.
This Sunday is the first of the four Sundays of Advent.
Christmas will be a time to remember the Good News of Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, but much more than that, it's a preparation for a change in us ourselves now (a birth!). Jesus told of his second coming, and the Gospel today is describing how we should be open to surprises in our individual lives. God keeps calling. If some famous leader turned up at your front-door some day, you'd be keen to invite him or her in, and to have the house reasonably clean and tidy (at least without holes in the roof!), but what if Christ himself were to appear? The home that He seeks, is no fancy palace or castle (or 'Whitehouse'), but rather our individual hearts and minds. So let's have them in good condition!
Do we have healthy ambitions for our lives? God may well have a great plan for us of which we're just not aware yet, so we should be open to novelties. Excuse my bad humour, but I suppose God won't be voting for the conservatives ('tories' in England or the PP in Spain)!
The coming of the Magi (Wise Men) to Bethlehem for the Epiphany (Jan 6), is a good symbol. They had to follow a star which was a strange bit of astronomy! As we pray, we keep asking “Lord, is there a solution in this world now?”, and the answer is affirmative, but it needs our “Yes!”. The Magi got onto their camels, and Mary and Joseph had to make a rough ride to Bethlehem, but with the firm hope that something marvellous was going to arrive. It's a call to humbly trust that if God has plans for our lives, then they're surely much better than our own plans. So our plan is to say “yes” to whatever He wants to be born in us this Christmas. For example, with regard to my own religious vocation, if I were to see it as my own plan, then I'd get nervous and worried and slow to advance. But if I recognize it as God's call, then I stand by it firm and tall (even in a wheelchair!).
The second letter of Peter in the Bible criticises the way that some believed that there will be no second coming of Jesus (parousia) (2 Pt 3:3-4). But it says that the parousia is the teaching of Jesus and of the apostles and therefore is certain to happen. It warns that Paul's writings on this, should not be distorted (2 Pt 3:15-17). Some in the early church didn't accept the second letter of Peter in the New Testament canon. The oldest certain reference to it comes from Origen in the early third century, and as late as the fifth century some local churches still excluded it from the canon. But eventually it was universally adopted. The principal problem in question, is the false teaching of 'scoffers' who have concluded from the delay of the parousia, that the Lord is not going to return. So let's not scoff! He wants to return within each of our own selves. Do we prepare our hearts for the second coming of Christ? We cannot know where or when it will be, but we live in hope.
If an important visitor is coming, the house gets cleaned. If a baby is going to be born, it's good to have some pre-natal care. Fortunately, the heart of Mary was certainly clean and well prepared, so even a manger in Bethlehem was good enough! What about the 'manger' of our hearts?
Modern pre-natal care (part of obstetrics) has improved a lot, and a young medical student like me had to spend hours learning that care, and I think that Advent is a time for a spiritual pre-natal care! A doctor advises the pregnant women to avoid alcohol and cigarettes and to attend a pre-natal class. That won't be amusing in itself, but after the baby is born, she will be jumping for joy! Jesus actualy uses that image in John 16:21: 'When a woman is in labour, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth, she no longer remembers the pain because of her happiness that her child has been born.' Advent is a time of pre-natal care for the most tremendous of births! God longs for his love to be born in each one of us.
This modern world is of abortions and selfish pleasures. Will we simply avoid contributing to the problem, or will we also try to cure it?
Somebody put the effort into getting me to be born - and you also, but will we put the effort into Christ's birth in the modern world? Think of what Jesus said to Nicodemus: "Nobody can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above... The wind blows where it pleases, and you can hear the sound that it makes, but you don't know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with all those that are born of the Spirit.... 17 For God didn't send his Son in the world to condemn the world, but so that the World would be saved through him”. (Jn 3:3-8, 17).
We are just a simple bunch, but the stable in Bethlehem wasn't exactly an elegant maternity hospital! However Christ chose to be born there, and He chose to live in the poverty of Nazareth, so let's not be surprised that He wants to come and to live in all of us. Can we present a clean manger? - present clean hearts? Advent is a time to toss out the dirt and the dust that the world may have sprinkled on us.
Let's get reborn for Christmas. Christ wants to come, and He needs that we allow Him to enter, so let's be 'sober, on watch and alert'! Maranata! Come Lord!