Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
First Sunday of Advent: Commit to the Kingdom!
This is the first Sunday of the new liturgical year, the First Sunday of Advent. This year we return to the A cycle of readings, with the gospel focus mostly on the Gospel of Matthew. For those who read the daily readings, they are now from Year 1.
They will beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks. This is from the first reading of Advent, the second chapter of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.
At the end of World War II, the nations of the world decided that an international organization could best prevent war, and the United Nations was established. Since that time, the United States has fought in Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, just to mention the main conflicts. War has continued in the East between Israel and the various Moslem leaders and continues in various areas of Africa and South America. In the area of preventing war, the United Nations has not been very successful.
This is because we have fallen into the misconception that our world is capable of finding lasting peace on its own. That is not possible. The time of peace, justice and love cannot take place apart from the King of justice, peace and love, Jesus Christ. The angels proclaimed that this kingdom has begun with Jesus’ first coming in Bethlehem, "Glory to God on the highest and peace to his people on earth." But it will not be complete until His Second Coming at the end of time.
We need to be prepared for the Second Coming of the Lord. "Wake from sleep," Paul tells the Romans. "Stay awake," Jesus says in the apocalyptical section of Matthew. We must be prepared for the Day of the Lord.
Jesus gives the example of the people of Noah’s day. Many of these people weren't ready in the days immediately before the flood. They were too busy with their lives to be concerned about God's will and his Way. The gospel reading does not say that the people of Noah's day prior to the flood were evil, it just says that they were unconcerned.
It is fashionable, politically correct in a religious sense, to speak about people who do not worship as being unchurched. Well, in most of the United States, people who do not worship are not just unchurched; they are unconcerned. They just don't care about the existence of God or their obligation to reverence him not just in a Church but in their lives. During Advent we pray for these people. We pray that many of them will be touched by the grace of Christmas and come and join us on Christmas Day. If we are blessed with their presence, we need to welcome them. We need to let all our visitors, be they just coming down to see grandchildren or grandparents, or be they people who come to Church once or twice a year, we need to let all our visitors know that we treasure their presence. They need to know that the people they are sitting next to, you folks, want them to be members of our parish family. That is doing the work of the Kingdom.
"Don’t get caught napping," the Gospel says. The Lord will come to complete his restoration of creation to God’s original plan. How will he find us? What will he find me doing when I least expect his arrival? What will he find you doing?
Hopefully, he will find us spreading his Kingdom.
Allow me to be mystical here. Every act of kindness and love, every sacrifice of self for another, is a small step in the transformation of the world into the Kingdom of God. Conversely, every act of hatred, every act of selfishness, strengthens the power of evil that is destroying our world. The Battle for the Lord is not something that will take place many years from now. It is a battle that we are engaged in right now and right here. We need to be part of this. We need to commit.
We are not Christians because we say we are Christians. We are not Christians because we have been baptized and receive the sacraments. We are Christians because we have put on Jesus Christ and work hard to make his ways, our ways. We are Christians because we are open to the transformation the Lord wishes to make in our lives. We are Christians because we are determined to be the reflection of God’s love that he created us to be.
We need to commit. If we are committed to Christianity, then Christmas will be a reflection of the Lord’s presence in our lives. If we use the Christmas holidays as an opportunity to bury the hatchet and reconcile with those who have hurt us, if we look for ways to be more loving to others, especially those within our homes, then we will be engaged in the Lord’s battle against evil.
We need to commit.
There are times that preachers call people to the altar to establish a personal relationship with the Lord. This is a good thing. But the commitment to the Lord has deeper implications than that which is personal. The commitment to the Lord has a mystical element of being part of the transformation of the world Jesus initiated at his birth.
Christianity is not just a faith. It is the lifestyle of transformation. We have been called to take our part in the transformation of the world from the terrors that exist right now to that ideal of Isaiah’s prophecy: the mountain of the Lord, the time of peace.
Only Jesus Christ is the solution to the difficulties of the world. He is the Prince of Peace. And his time is now.
"So," we are told, "Stay awake, be prepared," for the Son of Man is coming.
We are called to participate in the ultimate victory of Christ the King.
May we have the courage to be Christian