5th/6th December 2020

posted 30 Nov 2020, 05:37 by Parish Office

Homily for the First Sunday of Advent, Year B (29/11/20)

Happy new liturgical year! Today we start the Year B cycle of readings, and so liturgically, according to the Church’s year, the new year starts today. We begin in Advent, awaiting the birth of Christ, then we celebrate His birth at Christmas, and then during Ordinary Time we unpack the impact of the coming of Christ – the difference it makes to our ordinary lives. Then we celebrate Lent, prepare for Holy Week, and then celebrate the Resurrection at Easter. Easter then finishes with Pentecost, and we, filled with the Spirit, return to Ordinary Time and bring the Lord, using the gifts of the Spirit, to our world.

That’s the liturgical year in a nutshell. But there are also other themes as well. Advent is not just about looking forward to Christmas, but also looking forward to Christ returning in glory at the end of time. The Gospel today says that we need to be ready. And so, as we begin a new liturgical year, we turn over a new leaf. On 1st January, people often make new year resolutions, which don’t always last too long. Maybe we could make a few Advent resolutions, but these would be different. Rather than the secular new year resolutions, where you try to do things off your own bat, why not Christianise the custom for Advent? This is what I am going to do, but not just using my own willpower and strength, but asking for the grace of God instead. I’m tempted at this point to jump to something in the second reading, but let’s look at the first reading first.

It’s quite relevant, actually, and reflects a lot of the problems and questions in society, as well as in the Church sometimes too. It says, “Why, Lord, leave us to stray from your ways and harden our hearts against fearing you?” It’s a good question. We can be a bit bewildered by why the world has been allowed to get into such a mess. Surely it shouldn’t be this way? If there was a time when people followed God more fervently, then that should have continued. Why have people moved away from God and why are we in such a mess? Please Lord, come and help us. We read, “Return, for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your inheritance”. Then it comes up with something rather interesting. It’s as if something is blocking God’s action in the world: “Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down”. Have you ever bought a tray of meat from the supermarket, with a plastic base and a thin film of see-through plastic on the top? You would assume that is should be easy to open – maybe there should be something you can pull to open it – but it won’t open. You pull at the edges and it just slips from your fingers. So in the end, there’s only one things for it: get a fork and break it open. “Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down.” Obviously there isn’t a thick piece of cling-film creating a barrier between heaven and earth. But there is something. We seem to have somehow insulated ourselves from God.

As the reading moves on, it begins to get to the cause. What is the cause of this barrier? Why do we seem to be abandoned by God? Why can’t we experience His presence, like in days of old?

“You were angry when we were sinners; we had long been rebels against you. We were all like men unclean, all that integrity of ours like filthy clothing.”

How many people today claim to be “good people”, to have “never done anyone any wrong” etc. etc., yet I bet if you knew them more fully, you would discover there was plenty they had done wrong! And what about if we look into our own hearts? We claim to be people of integrity, but in fact God sees that our lives are soiled by sin: “all that integrity of ours like filthy clothing. No one invoked your name or roused himself to catch hold of you.” Well, no wonder things went wrong! “For you hid your face from us and gave us up to the power of our sins.” So the means to be rid of this barrier is to acknowledge God, repent of our sins, and turn to Him for forgiveness, to do things His way, not ours.

Now a different vision: the second reading. “May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ send you grace and peace.” That’s what we need: the grace of God, leading to true peace. St Paul is rejoicing at how God is at work through the Church in Corinth:

“I never stop thanking God for all the graces you have received through Jesus Christ. I thank him that you have been enriched in so many ways … the witness to Christ has indeed been strong among you … [Our] Lord Jesus Christ … will keep you steady and without blame … and God is faithful.”

Do we want to live in the world of the first reading, or the second reading? Do we want to try to do things all by ourselves without God, or achieve all things with God? “ ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me'."