First Sunday of Advent
2 December 2012
St. Joseph’s Church, 11.30am.
My dear friends,
With the arrival of the First Sunday of Advent, we begin a new year of worship; we set out on the journey involved in a new Liturgical Year. We will attempt to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. During the course of the year, his life and his teaching will pass before us. We will re-visit all the mysteries of his time on earth from his expectation, his birth, his life to his death, resurrection, ascension into heaven and the sending of the Holy Spirit.
In the course of the year, we will relive the story. We have heard it many times already. There is a real danger that we may not be moved by it at all now, as it may have gone stale on us. We may be at the stage of sliding into an unreceptive role, content to be a spectator rather then an active participant in the drama of life’s mysteries. To allow ourselves to be challenged is more demanding, but also more exciting and more enriching. God is not just a God of the past, but of the present and future as well.
Each time we make this journey, we should be better able to understand it more deeply and make it more our own. We should be better able to understand our own story when it is illuminated by the story of Christ’s journey. His instruction should enable us to live our own life more fully and more joyfully. This Sunday and every Sunday of this new liturgical year will be a God-given chance to make a new beginning in our following of Christ. An American writer, Richard Bach once wrote “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.” The end of one phase of existence can be the beginning of another new and equally life-giving phase. God can break into our lives at any time. The birth of God in Jesus could be the beginning of our own rebirth into life with God.
The second reading of to-day’s Mass is taken from a letter which Paul wrote to the believers in Thessalonica. Paul had preached the message of Christ to them and then gone on toAthens. He now writes to encourage them, “we urge you and appeal to you in the Lord Jesus to make more and more progress in the kind of life you are meant to live : the life that God wants, as you learnt from us, and as you are already living it. You have not forgotten the instructions we gave you on the authority of the Lord Jesus.” Paul urges that returning to these instructions should help the Thessalonians to remain strong in their commitment to Christ. Advent can provide a similar opportunity for us believers to revisit the manner in which we have come to know God.
According to an ancient tale there were five people who froze to death around a campfire on a bitterly cold night. Each had a stick of wood they might have contributed to the fire, but for reasons of their own each person refused to give what they had. One woman would not give her stick of wood because there was a male in the circle. A homeless man would not give because there was a rich man there. The rich man would not give because his contribution would warm somebody who was shiftless and lazy. Another would not give his stick when he recognised one not of his particular religious faith. An African-American man withheld his piece of wood as a way of getting even with the whites for all they had done to him and to his race.
Eventually the fire died as each person withheld their piece of fuel for reasons justifiable to them. This story was originally told in the form of a poem that ends with these lines:
Six logs held fast in death’s still hand
was proof of human sin.
They did not die from the cold without,
they died from the cold within.
Do we stick with the apparently protective and comforting darkness? Or do we take the risk of opening our hearts and minds to the light? When you think about it, we do contain even within ourselves – within our very look, our very hand, our very lips – the power to bring light. A gesture to make somebody feel better. A smile. Picking up the phone. A courteous note. An apology given. A word of love spoken. A reach outward. A stand for justice. Very simple things; and yet with them we can heal hearts, souls and even bodies. We have that power. We can all of us be light-bearers in scattering the darkness.
Do we stay with the darkness within? Do we live within the shadow of the dark hurt that may be there for years? Do we imprison and disempower ourselves within the dark pain and grief and struggles of human beings everywhere? Are we stuck? Or can the birth of a child show us the way to allow us let go of our piece of wood and let it make life-giving light and warmth to be shared with all? Advent is an appropriate time to begin the journey again, to open the doors and windows, and make room for the child who has the power to allow our shadowy world to be transformed. As the Gospel acclamation in today’s Mass pleads:
Let us see, O Lord, your mercy
and give us your saving help.
Liam S. MacDaid