Sunday, December 17, 2017

Advent isn't about what you think it is (Sunday homily)

Maybe you have noticed during the last few weeks,
the readings at Mass have been about the end of time.
On the Feast of Christ the King, we heard about the final judgment;
and the past two weeks have been about Jesus’ Final Coming.
So today, we heard about a “year of favor” and a “day of vindication.”

In fact, this is the overriding theme of Advent.
At some point or another, you have to ask:
what’s this got to do with Christmas?

I’m going to say something that will surprise you, but:
Advent is not about preparing for Christmas!
At least, not primarily. Rather, it is about preparing for Eternity.

The focus is on the far horizon of time
when Christ will put the elect on his right and the damned on his left;
and he will usher in the New Creation,
when you and I will become the redeemed humanity we long to be.

So where does Christmas fit in? Christmas is the down-payment!

Stop and consider the way we celebrate Christmas as a society;
and you’ll see that it actually distorts our focus.
We start seeing ads and TV specials hinting at Christmas
back in October; or September, or August?

Stores put up decorations and displays. The music starts.
We have handicraft sales and sleigh rides.

Right after Hallowe’en we start putting up trees and lights,
The parties start to pile up, we have christmas, a little more Christmas,
and then, HERE IT IS, December 25, CHRISTMAS! Exhaustion!
It’s over! Here come the bills, ouch!

See that? We’ve turned Christmas into the climax, the high point.
But what if that’s all wrong?
Christmas isn’t the end; it’s the beginning.
It is the down payment on the complete redemption of humanity;
on the New Creation, on what lies ahead for each of us.

So again, Advent is mainly about eternity;
because eternity is the real point of our lives as Christians.
If someone asks, why be a Christian, the short answer is,
Because of the eternity Jesus offers us.

Jesus came to fix what went wrong with humanity.
That’s why he was born; that’s why he died and rose.
You and I join our lives to his, living for him, watching for him,
Till he comes again to bring us to that fullness of life.

It occurs to me that we do not talk enough about eternity.
This world crowds in, demanding urgent attention.
The phone rings; bills need to be paid.
The kids need a ride to basketball practice.

Even so, eternity is our focus.
Reminding ourselves of this helps us
make sense of everything God asks,
 and everything we say “no” to for the sake of Christ.
The disciplines and demands of our Faith
are just like what a coach asks of her team;
or what a drill sergeant does in training his squad.
“We’re getting ready,” he says, “for what’s coming next."

If you are preparing for your wedding,
it makes sense that you got your shoes polished, your hair cut,
you rented a fancy tuxedo, and put all that gear on.
But who would go to all that trouble, and then just sit in a room?

This is a good time to recall the ancient Christian practice
of giving up marriage for the sake of the Kingdom,
which lives on in priests and religious, of course.

Why should anyone give up marriage for the sake of the Kingdom?
So many people, especially in our time, simply do not understand it.
Nor do they get why anyone would take vows in religious life,
and enter a convent or monastery.

Is it because we think marriage is something bad?
Hardly: we call it a sacrament. Marriage is something very, very good.

And that is precisely the point.
There’s nothing noteworthy about giving up a bad thing.
But when someone gives up something extraordinarily good,
the natural question is, why?

And the answer is, they are looking to something better.
To eternity. That is why when you see religious sisters and brothers,
their faces are lit with an other-worldly light.
They have given up possessions and the world and marriage,
and they are full of joy.

To embrace the religious life is to be a mirror of eternity,
so that people see in your life, not the ordinary things of this world,
but the New Creation that we hope for.
People see that you are dressed and ready for the Kingdom.

How do you know if you are called to the religious life?
Well, if you find yourself longing for more: for more prayer;
for more Mass; for more than this world can offer; for more Christ:
Then this calling may be for you.

All the same, it is not only priests and religious
who are called to be a witness to hope.
Every single Christian – every one of us –
is asked by Christ to be such a mirror of eternity.

And if that sounds demanding, it is.
But then, realize that life makes more sense
when we keep our focus on what we’re working toward and waiting for.

So to come back to my main theme:
Advent is not mainly about Christmas – but Eternity.
After all, Christmas, too, is really about Eternity.
Jesus did not come into the world to be changed into the world;
Rather, he came in order to change the world into himself.

One of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis,
wrote a wonderful book called the Screwtape Letters,
which centers on a fanciful correspondence between two devils.
In one chapter, the more experienced devil explains to the novice
that while “humans live in time, [God] destines them for eternity.
He therefore…wants them to attend chiefly to two things:
to eternity itself, and to…the present,
the point at which time touches eternity.”

Even so: right now, at this present moment, “time touches eternity.”
Right now, just out of reach, in the jangle of thoughts and emotions,
just past the uncertainty, in between our actions and reactions,
in the frightening silence, there is eternity.

Eternity is right here. Everything about Holy Mass
is meant to make this real to us, and to whet our appetite for it.
The Eucharist is – truly is –
Eternity wrapped up in the thinnest, barest gossamer of time.

If you knew you would enter Eternity a day from now,
or an hour from now, what would be different?
What would you do differently?

Of course, Eternity is here, right here, right now.

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