Monday, November 28, 2011

Homily for 1st Sunday of Advent 2011

Last night, as we were getting ready for the Mass at Malmstom, someone commented, “Wow, we’re changing everything.” I think this was the first time this person had actually helped prepare for Advent. Just as we had done earlier in the week here, the Music Issues had been changed out. The Sunday Lectionary was changed from Year A to Year B. The Weekday Lectionary was changed from Year I to Year II. And, of course, the Sacramentary was replaced with the Roman Missal. I guess it did seem like everything had been changed and he wasn’t talking about the text from the new translation. Those involved regularly in Church life who understand the ebb and flow of the liturgical year know that all of these changes take place at the beginning of the liturgical year. Even with the new translation this year, we are able to sort of sit back, because we know when to expect the change and are ready for it. I would hope it hasn’t caught any of us off guard.

But, what did we hear at the beginning today’s Gospel? “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come’”. And at the end we heard simply the word “Watch!” We do not know when the Lord is going to return. For all that we know it could be before we get home this afternoon, or it could be after the youngest in our group has lived to a ripe old age. Even in our own life, things do not always happen in the schedule we expect. As many of you know, I went back to Garfield County the past few days in hopes of filling my “B tag” for an elk. The “B tag” was a second tag for an antlerless elk in that region. Yesterday, as I was dropping back down into Fort Benton, I gave Helen (my 73-year-old secretary) a quick call. Her first question after she knew it was me on the other end was, “And, where are you?” I told her I was dropping into Fort Benton and she quickly told me, I haven’t been by the house yet with today’s mail. I told her not to worry about it. In our everyday life, we experience the unexpected arrival of people. We think we’ve got everything figured out, but soon realize we do not. We are always called to prepare ourselves, especially for the return of Christ. As I’ve mentioned before, this first part of Advent is not so much preparing for the Christ child’s arrival at Christmas, but the King’s return.

I’d like us to listen again to the Collect from today’s Mass. (For those who are not sure what the Collect is, it is the prayer said by the priest to collect the prayers of all of those gathered at the beginning of Mass. When the priest says, “Let us pray,” we all offer our prayers silently. Then the priest says a prayer to collect all of those prayers in to one prayer.)

Here again is that Collect: “Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly Kingdom.” With this new translation, we hear more about asking God for his assistance in doing what we ought. “Grant your faithful, . . . the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ.” There is a sense that the being watchful requires more action on our part than simply sitting at the gate waiting for the Master’s return. There should be a sense of expectation and joy as we watch for the Lord to return. Our excitement should be much like that of the father of the prodigal son. When he recognized his son in the distance, he raced out to meet him. In our watchfulness, when we see the Lord coming, we should run forth to meet [the Father’s] Christ.

The Collect reminds us that we are not simply to run forth, but to do so with righteous deeds so that we may be gathered at his right hand. This harkens back to last week’s gospel passage about the last judgement and the separation of the sheep from the goats. Christ separates in reality those who are doing good for others vs those who ignored others. Our interior response to the Gospel, reflected in today’s Collect, is the realization that others are made in the image and likeness of God. We need to see our outreach to them as a reflection of the love we have for God. Our exterior response is to then go out, changing the world and showing them the love of Christ. It is good to reflect upon the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. I'm not going to go into detail, but will present them for those who have forgotten what they are.

The corporal works of mercy are: To feed the hungry; To give drink to the thirsty; To clothe the naked; To harbour the harbourless; To visit the sick; To ransom the captive; To bury the dead.

What about the spiritual works of mercy? To instruct the ignorant; To counsel the doubtful; To admonish sinners; To bear wrongs patiently; To forgive offences willingly; To comfort the afflicted; To pray for the living and the dead.

Again, let us hear the end of today’s gospel, “May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’” Let us not only watch, but let us have the resolve to run forth with righteous deeds so that we may be gathered at the right hand of the Christ.

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