1st Sunday of Advent
1st Sunday / Advent / A
November 26-27, 2016
St. Thomas Aquinas, Ames, Iowa
Fr. Jon Seda
Earlier this year on Ash Wednesday, I went to an afternoon meeting with some campus ministers at Iowa State from several differently denominations. Some of them had lots of questions about Ash Wednesday. What is it? What does it mean? Why do we do it? We had an honest and open discussion with Christians who have little or no sense of liturgical seasons. It is hard for me to imagine the Christian life with no Ash Wednesday, no Lent, no Advent. Only the Bible and us.
Our discussion that day made me appreciate the wisdom our our tradition. Liturgical seasons are needed to deepen the life of Christ within us. They are not a day but several weeks long, because growth takes time. Without Lent, we really don't get Easter. And today, without Advent, we really won't get Christmas.
Today with the universal Church, we begin a new church year on the first Sunday of Advent. This will be the longest Advent in our 2000 year history, for a full five weeks, because this year Christmas falls on Sunday. This week I had a seminarian for our Archdiocese stay with me for a few days. I offered him a free bed in exchange for some ideas for the homily today. So I asked Martin, why do we have Advent? Why is Advent important?
He thought for a bit and then said this: " Advent reminds us that we need a Savior. The world is broken. We are broken. And we do not have the power to become whole on our own." Well, I would give him an A+. We are broken, and we do not have the power to become whole on our own.
St. Paul in the second reading says that now is the time to throw off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light. And in the classic reading from Isaiah in the first reading, we hear of a time to come when the nations will beat their swords into plowshares, and nations will not train for war ever again.
Well the obvious problem with that is that we have shown over and over and over again that we are incapable of doing this. We have tried and we have failed. Peace in our world, peace in our nation, and peace in our families seems beyond our reach. We are powerless to change bad habits or break our addictions. We are trapped in works of darkness.
Advent is the season to face this hard truth, that we are helpless to change our world and even to change our lives on our own power. Sin is not just bad actions or bad attitudes. Sin is a condition we all share, it is a dysfunction we all are stuck in.
We are helpless, but we are not hopeless. Our hope, and our only hope, is in the power of God coming into our world and our lives. It is His Kingdom that is promised to us, not one of our own efforts and our own making.
So yes, act for peace in our world, nation and families, but even more importantly, pray for it. So yes, act to find freedom from bad habits and addictions, but even more importantly, pray for it. So yes, act to throw off the works of darkness, but even more importantly, pray for it. And when it happens, we know that it happen due to God's grace and not our efforts. In the Gospel, Jesus says he will break into our world and our lives in a time and way we do not expect. It is his power and not our own that can truly make us holy.
Advent is a season and not a day, because growth takes time. It is a dark and quiet time to realize that we are helpless but not hopeless. So our Advent prayer might be something like this: O Come O Come Emmanuel, and do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.