I prepared this homily for Saint Joseph Church in Lakeland, Florida. I will be preaching it there on December 13, 2015. This one is a big deal because I will be preaching it in the parish where I spent most of my years growing up – really all of them worth anything since my family attended that parish from when I was about 7 until well after I moved out on my own.
You have two weeks.
Is the Christmas shopping done?
All the presents bought?
Are they wrapped?
Is the tree ready to go?
Christmas menu planned?
Are you ready for the coming of Christ?
I don’t mean sweet little baby Jesus, I mean for him to come again in glory. If he were to call creation complete and come back right now, are you ready? Am I? Are we? Are each of us ready to stand before our God and have every aspect of our lives brought into the light? Maybe you are better than I am, but, if I’m honest, I don’t think I am.
The Entrance Antiphon for today’s Mass is “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.”
Great. Now I’m just contradicting myself. First I say we are not ready then I tell you to rejoice. What gives?
According to St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Advent must prepare us for three comings of Christ: in flesh in the manger, in spirit and sacrament, and in glory and majesty. Today, I want to look at our own response to each of them – and hopefully that will make sense of my opening of this homily.
The first coming of Christ: Sweet little baby Jesus. He came helpless in a manger. The God of the Universe, the Eternal Word through whom all things were created, came among us. Listen to Isaiah in the responsorial psalm we all sang just a few minutes ago: Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.” Or Zephaniah from the first reading: “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel!… The LORD, your God, is in your midst.” Do you hear the joy in the prophets just awaiting that first coming of Jesus? God came down to us and became one of us. We must respond by washing ourselves clean to be ready for that first coming, even though it is just as a helpless baby in a manger. If we have sins on our soul, now is the time to hit the confessional! Make Fr. Ramon work overtime to hear all the confessions so this parish can be spotless and without blemish to welcome him. We are then prepared to rejoice his coming among us in the flesh.
When Jesus came among us on that first Christmas, the climax of God’s work of salvation — perhaps the longest play in history stretching all the way back to Adam and Eve where God made the first promise of salvation — That climax of God’s work of salvation began to take shape. A unique moment in history, God took our flesh, the Son became one of us and like to us in all things but sin. How can we possibly respond in any way but rejoicing‽
Our salvation is at hand. In Christ, we have been adopted as sons and daughters of the Father. When we were baptized, Christ came into our hearts for the first time in a very real way. We were grafted into Christ’s body and filled with the Holy Spirit. This is Bernard’s second coming; Christ dwells in each of our hearts today! Can you rejoice with me in that fact?
But that second coming is (and must be) ongoing. If we do not let our baptism constantly work in us, if our baptism becomes something only in the past — and let’s face it, all of us often let that happen — When we do, instead of living in that second coming of Christ, we mire it in the morass of sin; we hide from Christ in our lives, and we hide Him in our actions.
We all fall into that, but that is why we have the Sacrament of Reconciliation. That is why the Lord continues to make Himself available to us in an ongoing way in the Eucharist. This is Bernard’s second coming of Christ: the constant working of Christ in the world, coming into our hearts in Spirit, Truth, and Sacrament. It is our job to be the visible expression of that second coming of Christ, to as Saint Paul tells us,
Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again: rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all.
The Lord is near.
When a person receives communion just before they die, we call it viaticum, the food for the journey. But each time we receive the body and blood of our Lord, when we approach the altar in the Mass as we will do in a few minutes, it is also a food for the journey, food for our pilgrimage on earth, our journey to God’s Kingdom so that, at Christ’s third coming, we can meet him with joy.
It is in that pilgrimage of life that we look to the One who, in baptism, began the good work in each of us will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus, the third coming for which we prepare, the coming in glory. It is up to us to prepare for the third coming. When he comes, will we be either petrified or have cause to rejoice. Which one is up to us. Will we panic that our deeds we did in the dark will be brought to light, or will we rejoice at the coming of Christ?
We must steer clear of the trap in which Advent is just about waiting for Sweet Little Baby Jesus on Christmas. It certainly is that, but it is so much more. This preparation in Advent is the time for us to heed the words of the voice of one crying out in the desert – and our world certainly has become a howling desert.
Prepare the way of the Lord,
Make straight His paths,
And make the rough ways smooth.
That is why — Today. Right now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not as a New Years Resolution. Today — each and every one of us must cast off our old lives, reconcile with our Heavenly Father, go to confession if we have serious sin on our conscience, and have cause to rejoice – Not only for the joyful coming of Christ in a manger, but for His glorious return, the ending purpose of our faith, “The blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Will we be ready to greet him with cries of joy and thanksgiving when He returns?
Will we be ready to rejoice?
We have two weeks.