Homily for the 1st Sunday of Advent, Year B
Beginning a new liturgical year lets us take a fresh look at the great mysteries we celebrate. Once again, we get to relive the birth of Jesus and his being revealed to the magi. Once again, we will commemorate his suffering and death, and celebrate the ultimate defeat of death in his Resurrection. Once again, we will remember his sending of the Holy Spirit, and the immense gift he has given us of his Body and Blood. We will celebrate feasts and memorials of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and we will commemorate the lives and deaths of many holy men and women.
And, though we are told in the First Letter to Timothy that our God dwells in “unapproachable light” (1 Tim 6.16), each mystery we celebrate serves to refract this light, allowing us to draw closer to God. Each mystery we celebrate allows us to know him, love him, and serve him, with increasing depth and vigour. And so it is our great privilege to begin once more the cycle of our liturgical year, the movements of which speak to the very depths of our union with Almighty God.
And we begin, as always, with Advent – with this great season of waiting, and hoping. Throughout this season, the liturgy frequently reminds us—as if to reassure us in our uncertainty—that our God is coming.
Our God comes to be with us in every situation of our lives. He comes to dwell among us – to live with us and within us. He comes to fill the gaps that divide and separate us. He comes to reconcile us with him and with one another. Our God comes into human history to knock at the door of our soul, and that of every person of good will, to bring us the gifts of communion, harmony and peace.
Christ’s coming into the world was not only the fulfilment of God’s promise to Israel – it was also the fulfilment of the hope of every human heart that ever longed for peace or the presence of God. And the season of Advent not only prepares us to recall Christ’s coming as a child, but it also prepares us to anticipate his glorious return at the end of time. Our Lord and Saviour is still the fulfilment of every human heart, and he comes to invite us all into the peace and unity of his kingdom, where he reigns for all eternity.
In our Gospel passage, Jesus exhorts us to be attentive, to stay awake, and to pray always. And indeed, the purple vestments that the priest wears during Advent reminds us that our preparation for the Lord’s coming takes on a penitential flavour. Much like Lent, we are urged to use this season to be vigilant, and to watch with attentiveness. We have to make room—in our lives and in our souls—to welcome the God who comes.
I don’t have to remind you that there are many things vying for our attention at this time of year. We are bombarded with advertising, and promised products to fill needs that we never knew existed. We are surrounded by a consumerism that reaches its fever-pitch precisely as we pause to celebrate God’s coming among us in absolute poverty. Jesus was born on the run, in a cold, dark stable with a feeding trough for a bed – and everything around us tries to get us to commemorate this with an endless stream of purchasing.
Now, I’m certainly not criticising the lovely Christmas tradition of sharing gifts. If done well, it is entirely appropriate, and it can be a fine expression of our love for each other. Indeed, the excitement of this ritual meant that, for most of us, our first experience of this season as a small child involved a pronounced waiting and hoping that mirrors the expectant hope we now share as adults in faith.
The key, as Jesus reminds us in the Gospel, is watchfulness, attentiveness. Be on your guard so that outside forces do not distract you into diverting your attention from the Lord’s coming onto the things of this world. To aid us in this, the Church encourages us to practice the disciplines of prayer and penance throughout Advent. Penance, that we might deny ourselves those things that promise to fill us up, but never do. And prayer, that we might let God encounter the depths of our need, and satisfy us with his very self.
By entrusting ourselves and our deepest needs to God—a God who frees us from our own never-ending desires—Advent prepares us to receive Jesus more faithfully and more fully whenever and wherever his life is brought to birth.
And this begins here and now – for our Lord comes to meet us during this very Mass in the Holy Eucharist. So we can practice this attentiveness right now. Don’t let anything—either your to-do list for this coming week, the noise of the people around you, or the Christmas trees behind me—distract your attention from the miracle that is about to take place on this altar.
Our Lord, who so humbly came among us as a child in Bethlehem, even more humbly comes among us in the sacred Host. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords, comes hidden in a small piece of bread. To this extreme he humbles himself out of love for you and me.
Look to the example of Mary. When God came knocking at the door of her young life, she gave the Lord her full attention, and welcomed him with faith and love. Let us follow her then this Advent, as we make our way together in spirit towards Bethlehem. And let us pray for each other, that the approaching Nativity of Christ may fill the hearts of all Christians with joy, serenity and peace. Amen