Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Homily, December 2, 2012, 1st Sunday of Advent, "Coming of the 5th Kingdom", Fr. Dick Clifford, SJ

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ADVENT 1 YEAR C Dec. 2, 2012

Have you heard the expression, “the fish that got away.” It refers to the claim of a fisherman that he or she was reeling in a huge fish, but before it could be brought on board the boat, it snapped the line and swam away. It was “the fish that got away.” In a slightly altered sense, I suggest that the four-week liturgical season of Advent is the season that for most people “gets away.” There are powerful reasons why Advent seems to disappear after a few days. First, commercialism, always strong in our culture, goes into overdrive from Thanksgiving Day to Christmas Eve. There is Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and glittering lights on every downtown tree. These are symbols of a focus on only one part of Christmas–gift-giving or should I say giftbuying.

It takes over and makes us spend December dreaming of gifts we plan on giving or hope to receive. The result is that Advent–a Latin word that means “coming”–takes over and we leap over it to get to Christmas with its delights. But if we jump over it, we miss an essential period of reflecting on God’s promises to come to us, to live out the name of Jesus, Immanuel, “God with us.” We miss, ultimately, God’s gift of Godself to us at time in the liturgical year.

But don’t despair. We can slow things down and discover the season. There are, for example, the Advent reflections led by Sr. Nancy Sheridan and Fr. Ken Hughes, which enable us to be sensitive to God’s desires to come to us. And there are the four Advent Sundays with their beautiful readings, perhaps the most evocative of the Church year.

The mention of Advent readings brings me to the second reason that Advent has come to be “the season that got away.” Maybe you thought there was only one reason–the commercialism and the hectic pace of December. Well, there is another–the difficulty that lies behind many of the Advent readings. In this season of hope, they speak of destruction. Recall today’s Gospel (Luke 21:25-28): “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” That does not sound very hopeful, does it? What does all this destruction mean?

In answer, let me first mention that the readings for the end of year (in late November) and for the beginning of the year (in December) are usually of the same kind, i.e., they speak of destruction. We can understand, I suppose, the end-of-year readings sneaking of destruction, but the beginning-of-year readings!? The answer, I think, is that the coming of the kingdom of God will mean ultimately the end of earthly kingdoms. Recall that in the book of Daniel (second century B.C.) it is twice said (chs. 2 and 7) that a special kingdom will arise after the endless succession of kingdoms, which the book of Daniel calls the four kingdoms. But there will be a fifth kingdom, the kingdom of God, that will in the long run do away with those earthly kingdoms. The kingdom has been decreed in heaven, but not yet been on earth. This fifth kingdom, the kingdom of God, makes an appearance in the church and wherever humans are fully open and obedient to God. But we look for its coming in fulness. And so it is that the kingdom of God, the fifth kingdom, has this persistent aspect--it is always coming. But in order for us to see it as no less powerful because it is in process, it is frequently portrayed with images of destruction, i.e., destruction of the kingdoms of this world insofar as they are evil, ineffective, or just plain unable to bring about a truly just world.

So the destruction spoken of in such readings should not throw us, for it is really the demolition of a useless building to make way for a more beautiful and useful structure. Recall how the passage I quoted above ends (Luke 21:29=31): “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

How are we to celebrate Advent, to enter into its readings and spirit? I would suggest we meditate on God’s promises to help us, and especially on those promises of God personally coming into our midst. An example is Isa 7:14. The context is a conversation between the preacher Isaiah and King Ahaz who had refused to believe that God will intervene to help his city JÚrusalem in a time of war. When he is unwilling to ask God for a sign, Isaiah pointed to the wife of Ahaz and declares: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel, i.e., God with us.”

Isaiah’s promise was fulfilled, it seems, with the birth of the good king Hezekiah who indeed saved Jerusalem from its enemies. But being a promise of God, it never lost its power to affect history. And so it came true in a final way in the person of Jesus. It was the coming of God in a person, in a child. Pondering this text and others will give us confidence that God is involved in our lives and that God personally will come to us. God’s reign now appears here and there, especially in the Church as its best and Christians at their best. But it is not yet here in its fullness so that waiting and hoping are essential parts of a Christian’s attitudes. And Advent is a school for learning how to wait for fullness and how to hope for God’s final and definitive coming. Christ will come at Christmas–a wondrous event–but Advent teaches us that his coming at Christmas is a pledge of a yet more definitive coming at the end of time. Kingdoms will be dismantled to make way for God’s everlasting rule.

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