November 29, 2017

Homily for the 1st Sunday of Advent, December 3, 2017, Year B

Christ's agony in the Garden

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America
Hartford, Connecticut

I have a revelation to make.

What does that statement make you expect? A personal confession? Some new scandal in the Church? An interesting secret, or some news that will amaze or disappoint you?

One way or another, the statement probably sparked your interest.

In today’s reading from St. Paul, we find a similar idea: “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Christians of Corinth, who are already believers, are waiting for another revelation.

As we begin a new year in the life of the Church, we do so with a sense of anticipation. In this respect Advent is quite different from Lent. Both use purple vestments, both omit the Gloria at Mass, both are meant to be a sober preparation for a great feast to follow. Still, have you ever heard of making “Advent resolutions”?

For whatever reason, Advent isn’t usually experienced as a time for taking stock, for conversion. From that point of view, today’s first reading from Isaiah comes as a surprise with its heavily penitential tone: “Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people... and our guilt carries us away like the wind.”

In Advent we look less inward than outward. Instead of recurring themes of mercy and forgiveness, we sing “O come, O come, Emmanuel!” In the responsorial Psalm we read, “Rouse your power and come to save us.” Even Isaiah cries out: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!”

This is definitely an upbeat season. It is time for God to act. We perceive ourselves as needing only to be ready and waiting.

Now it is just possible that this need to be ready and waiting may challenge us to make some important changes in our life. There are, after all, so many distractions. Christmas itself, since it involves shopping and decorations and parties, becomes a distraction from Advent. These things are inevitable, so we do have to make a serious effort to maintain the focus on the revelation that is to come.

There is an almost seamless transition from the end of one liturgical year and the beginning of the next. Just last Sunday we had the perspective of the final coming of Christ as Judge. The week before that we had the parable of the master returning and settling accounts with his servants. Today we are told to be like servants expecting the master’s return.

There is a difference, nonetheless. Over the last few weeks we have been anticipating the final and definitive revelation in the Second Coming of Christ. As we say in the Creed: “He will come again in glory... and his kingdom will have no end.” This is the faith of the Church.

In Advent, our horizon is not so vast. While waiting for the Ultimate Revelation, we also live in expectation of what we might call intermediate revelations.

I am not talking about any new public or private revelation as distinct from that already received and transmitted by the Church. What I mean is that Advent is a perfect time for us to be especially attentive, for example, to the readings at Mass, so that we might experience that revelation in a new, personal way.

Ideally this would become our way of life as Christians, not limited to these four weeks. As Jesus says: “May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.”

Advent teaches us to expect God to surprise us, to expect him to say, “I have a revelation to make.” That should spark our interest!

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