Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Homily: Advent I: 2013 Updated

As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man.

"Now is the winter of our discontent" not as with Richard III because of the War of the Roses but because of the War against Christmas. Not because of the Houses of Lancaster and York but because of 'Happy Holidays' instead of "Merry Christmas".  Because of the determination that the Holidays will not be Holy Days. Because in the public square politicians, the courts, retailers, all fumble around trying to ignore the elephant in the room which is Jesus born this day in Bethlehem.  

All this, I fear,  distracts us from the things that really do matter, from  the only real antidote to the ‘dark Satanic malls’ – the Advent Liturgy and the Word which it speaks to us, the Word which is not only difficult for the world to receive but for us Christians as well.

The Advent Word might easily be confused with the word of Scrooge. It comes to us in the stern message of St. John the Baptist addressed not to the world but to believers: “Repent! You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? The axe is laid to the tree. Every tree which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” 

The Word comes to us in the womb of the blessed Virgin at her unqualified assent to the divine will: “be it unto me according to thy word.” No pleas for a little time to think it over. No excuses. No begging for better terms. Just that uncompromising fiat: the Word which we know, but the world does not, leads not only to beautiful Bethlehem but also to Golgotha and the sword piercing Our Lady's  own heart.

But, perhaps most disturbing of all, is the Word of this First Sunday in Advent: as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man. We have managed to turn Noah and his Ark into a cute little petting zoo, something that would never have entered the minds of those Jews who first heard these words of Jesus. Noah and the Ark are X rated for violence: the end of all living things except Noah and his family and the tiny little menagerie he packed into the ark. The wood of the Ark, as the Fathers knew,  is a type of the Wood of the Cross. The flood is a type of the Final Judgment. 

Fr. von Balthazar says that what Advent asks of us is “to view Christmas, Christ’s first coming and the world’s judgment, his second coming, together’ and that “this should not surprise us.” The world and its Christmas is a temporary problem because the world is a temporary thing. The world is doomed in a stable.

“In these last days” the Epistle to Hebrews says “God has spoken to us by his Son”. The only question is will we hear him or refuse to hear him. The Word which is spoken at Bethlehem is “for the rise and fall of many.” The Word in the manager “is sharper than any two-edged sword”. The Prince of Peace came “not to bring peace but a sword” – and division: For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law”.  S0   troubling and disturbing feasts fall right after Christmas Day, St. Stephen the first martyr and the Slaughter of the Innocents. The Gospel of the Mass of Christmas Day, the Last Gospel in more ways than one, insists:the world did not know the Word. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him”. 
This Word “troubled all of Jerusalem”  long before the separation of church and state and long before Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer came along men realized that this Word had to be silenced. There is a straight road from Bethlehem to Calvary.

The Word which Jesus speaks, the Word which He is, cannot be silenced, not even by death. “They shall look upon him whom they pierced”. In that great and ancient Christmas Carol, the hymn to the Incarnation in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians we are told: just because ‘he was obedient, obedient even death, God hath highly exalted him and given him a Name above every other Name, that at the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow”.

What we need more than worrying about the ill-informed Christmas is the forming and informing of our own hearts according to this Word of Advent. Otherwise, Christmas, as Fr. von Balthazar concludes, becomes  nothing more than ‘a feast of niceness’. The problem is not deciding what you will get for whom.   In reality Christmas forces us to decide whether or not we really receive this Word, whether or not we really are the sons of God. Advent is but the season of the Lord’s delay, when he allows us  time to choose. We know how many days there are before Christmas but we do not know how many days before Jesus comes again.

As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man.

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