Homily for the First Sunday of Advent
(Scriptures for today's Mass)
Audio for homily
There are many times when my ministry, my work, my message
leave me feeling like I’m shoveling sand against the tide
but seldom as much as when I get up to preach
on the First Sunday of Advent.
Like a tidal wave gathering force and momentum over several weeks,
Christmas crashed upon the shores of our culture, our homes,
our imagination and our hearts
as the Thanksgiving Day dinner table was being cleared.
So here I am today, shoveling Advent sand against the Christmas flood.
I’ve noticed on FaceBook that some folks are proudly declaring
that they simply refuse to start celebrating Christmas
until -- the day after Thanksgiving.
Now, if that makes sense to you, if you find that to be a noble sentiment,
please be sure that I still love you,
still want to be FaceBook friends with you
when I tell you that something’s missing here.
And what’s missing is a whole season – the season of Advent.
Advent is not something invented by the Grinch to hold off Christmas
and it’s not the Church trying to deprive us of our good cheer.
It’s meant to be a way, a time, a season for remembering
what Christmas is really all about.
And who among us doesn’t agree that the celebrating the birth of Jesus
has been all but lost in the commercialization of this holy day
and our focus on selling and buying and giving and getting:
all in the context of rushing around, spending too much money,
eating too much food, drinking too many drinks,
and getting much too tired
from a season that’s supposed to be not just merry but peaceful, too.
Advent is meant to be a haven of peace where, at year’s end,
we can take some time look up into the winter sky as Isaiah did
and ask God to rend, to open the heavens, to come down,
and to break through the hardness of our hearts,
through the withered fallen leaves of our faults and failings.
Advent’s a time to look up into cold December skies
and imagine our God as a potter, ourselves as clay in his hands;
and God, with a potter’s patience and care,
continually smoothing away our misshapen efforts
and molding us to be, truly, the work of his hands.
In these weeks before Christmas might we, with St. Paul,
think not so much on the gifts we’re going to get
but on the gifts we’ve already received, the gifts that bring us peace:
the gift of faith in God who comes to be with us;
the gift of hope in God who promises never to leave us;
the gift of love from God who is our future: tomorrow and forever.
Advent’s a time when peace is to be found but it’s not nap time!
Jesus makes this clear in the gospel:
WATCH OUT! STAY AWAKE! BE ALERT! HEADS UP!
And Jesus isn’t talking about his birthday here,
he’s not talking about Christmas – he’s talking about LIFE.
He’s talking about being awake and alert and ready
for that day when he will come to knock my door and yours and say,
Advent is a season to make peace with God
as we prepare to celebrate the Lord’s birth among us
and to prepare ourselves for the day when he will come again
and hopes to find us ready for his return.
See what I mean about shoveling sand against the tide?
Well, that Christmas tsunami has crashed on our shores
and most of us are drenched in its waters already.
And you know what? You can try to shovel sand against the tide
but the tide comes in no matter how fast you shovel.
What to do then?
Let me make a small, practical suggestion
to help keep us alert and awake through the season ahead of us.
Let me ask you to pause for a moment and take a rough guess
at how much you plan to spend on Christmas presents this year.
Got that figure in mind? OK.
Now, take 10% of that figure and give it to charity.
How much will you spend on Christmas entertaining this year,
at home or at restaurants? Take 10% and give that to a charity.
Or try this. About how much will you spend this year
on wrapping paper, ribbons, Christmas cards and decorations?
Take 10% of that and give it to a charity.
And if you really want to be awake and alert this season,
estimate how much you’re going to spend on Christmas this year
(gifts, entertainment, paper goods and decorations)
and give 10% of that to charity.
That’s just one idea.
If you’re wondering what to get Jesus for his birthday,
I have it on good advice, that he’d be thrilled
if you took care of his brothers and sisters in need.
That’s really all he wants for Christmas.
Jesus. He’s the one who came to give us a gift – the gift of life forever.
He was born at Christmas but it was some 33 years later,
on a Friday afternoon, when he gave us not 10%
but 100% of everything he had to give, on the Cross.
And he’s about to share that gift with us once again at this table,
giving us 100% of his life in the Bread and Cup of the Eucharist.
Ponder what he gave us.
Ponder what he wants for his birthday.
Ponder how much we have.
Then, STAY AWAKE! BE ALERT! HEADS UP!
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