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The Challenge of Advent

Rev. Paul V. Redmond
Professor Emeritus
Mount St. Mary's University

(11-29-09) As Advent begins you and I find ourselves caught up in two conflicting environments--- civil society and our Christian heritage. On the one hand we have the welcoming figure of Santa Claus; stage and TV presentations of Charles Dickens' wondrous Christmas Carol may give way to New Moon of the Twilight Saga with Bella's boyfriends in conflict; Nutcracker ballets still trigger the wide-eye child hidden, but still present in each one of us. On the other hand we joyfully welcome an infant Jesus in a hay-filled cattle trough surrounded by a Jewish couple, teen age Mary and young Joseph, her husband. The years seem to melt away as we gaze wide-eyed in our imagination at a shining star, wise men, shepherds and singing angels. This holy tradition compels our affection and our allegiance.

In the midst of these environments it seems strange that the Church offers us a strikingly different way to ready ourselves for Christmas. Advent encourages us to focus on the "second coming" of Jesus. The Church keeps us in touch with the important truth of our faith that we actually wait for an adult Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose glorious victory on the cross has made him the center of our lives.

It is important, friends, to see how today's gospel selection from St. Luke challenges you and me. Luke in writing his gospel about fifty years after the death of Jesus describes Jesus as speaking about two heavy events--- the end of Jerusalem and the end of the world.

On one occasion Jesus, after he admired the Temple, the center of Jewish worship, foretells the end of Jerusalem: its citizens will fall by the edge of the sword or scattered among the nations-and Jerusalem itself will be trampled by pagans. Fifteen years before Luke wrote his gospel that historical even did take place-Roman legions of the emperor Titus destroyed the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. Luke then paints a different scene, a scene not from the past, but from the future.-"The Great Tribulation" described in today's Gospel.

In reading the gospels we need always remember that Holy Scripture is never a lesson in history nor in science. In reading both the Old and New testament accounts about the end of the world we need to be aware that the author is not Steven Spielberg. It Is always important to separate the "message" from the "stage props" that Jesus makes use of. We need to move beyond stage props such as "signs in the sun, moon and stars". . . "the powers of the heavens will be shaken"..the Son of Man as "coming in a cloud."-we need to move beyond such "stage props" to the message that Jesus gives us. That the Son of Man will come again is a truth of our faith---the cloud, however, is Disney make-believe.

We have no idea when this "second coming" of Jesus will take place. In his gospel Mathew writes that Jesus will come without warning: "But of the day or the hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but the Father alone"(24:26) Now Jesus, the Son, knows but we do not. That single verse from Matthew is a healthy caution against those people who are over-the-top in their thinking as they eagerly look for the "second coming" of Jesus as "right" around the corner. We don't have to stretch our necks in searching the skies for signs about the end of time.

Luke's Jesus encourages us to be vigilant by living out the gospel message that he - Jesus - has taught us. We have our work to do-each of us, a mission to carry out. We dare not let our spirits get dulled and fail to see Jesus crossing out paths each day. He cries out here and now for compassion. He slouches across a border and steps out from slums and condos. He comes in those who sneeringly question our Christian witness as their shoulders shrug off our words. He comes in every youngster and oldster who is lonely: in the young teenager contemplating an abortion, in the frail, broken-hearted gentleman crucified with MS who is presently thinking favorably about euthanasia, in the criminal waiting to be slaughtered on death row. He comes in the veteran who greets us with a wan smile as he works haltingly on his picture-puzzle project. All are in need of our Christian witness in our reaching out.

Advent, friends, summons you and me to repent-to show by the way we live out God's own life within us-that we may give the most Catholic and yet most human gift-to bring hope to the eyes of the hopeless. No joy can beat our looking deeply into the eyes of someone in need and recognizing the Messiah.

As "images of God", as "God's representatives on earth" by the sacraments you have received, may you see yourselves and others as having "the face of God". In the powerful words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, the premier poet of the Victorian Age.

"Christ PLAYS in ten thousand places, Lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his - (HE PLAYS ) to the Father through the features of (human) faces" -- "Christ plays to the Father through the features of human faces."

Friends, Hopkins' words gave me a jumpstart for the following suggestion. Later today take a good look yourself in your bathroom mirror. . . .a grateful, prayerful look. Figuratively speaking, each and every one of us wears an invisible masque of Jesus.. . .we wear an invisible masque of Jesus. We struggle in grace to live up to that masque we wear. At the time of our death God the Father in his love for us helps us to realize that our own features have somehow become the face of Christ, his Son. Look in that mirror again and wink a prayer of thanks.

Read other homilies by Father Paul