A homily by Abbot James R. Albers.
My confreres will know this, but a resolution I had from two Lents back was to give up listening to the radio in the car; following that Lent of 2016, this practice has stuck with me.
I am coming up on three years now without listening to the radio in the car. However, last week, I was driving up to Des Moines for the funeral of Fr. Simon’s grandmother, and as I was crossing the Missouri River Bridge leaving town, I thought to myself, “Maybe I’ll just listen to a few Christmas songs on my drive up.”
I actually was debating with myself whether I should or not. I turned the radio on, and then immediately turned it back off – the noise was shocking; I drove a few more miles, having just turned north toward St. Joseph on 59 Highway, battling with my conscience.
Unfortunately, my conscience lost, and I pressed the power button again, pushed the seek control, and soon found a station that was playing Christmas music. I was hoping for a little Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, or Frank Sinatra, or maybe even Elvis Presley, I probably could have even handled a little Paul McCartney. But as I found the radio station playing Christmas music, across the car radio came Kenny G.
I took that as a sign – God was telling me, “If you’re going to turn the radio on after almost three years and shut out this time you have with me, I’m going to give you Kenny G.” I promptly turned the radio off and enjoyed, in silence, my three-hour drive to Des Moines and that time with Jesus.
Everything around us in our culture and media, and even in our community, is shouting the joys of Christmas, and Advent only one week old.
The monks were reminded by St. Bernard in our patristic reading this morning at the Office of Vigils, that the purpose of this season of Advent is two-fold.
First it is to prepare us for our commemoration, our COMMEMORATION of the first coming of Jesus at his birth in Bethlehem. But secondly, and ultimately, this season of Advent, and really our commemoration of that first Advent at Bethlehem, is to provide us with the opportunity to prepare ourselves for the second coming of Jesus – we do Lent really well; we’re really bad at Advent.
This second coming is the Adventus Jesus speaks of in the gospel: “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” Jesus is taking us back to the Book of Daniel, from the first reading for the Feast of Christ the King, where the prophet speaks of one like the Son of Man who will come on a cloud and deliver Israel from a long period of oppression.
The Advent season is meant to remind us that we are a pilgrim people baptized into Christ. Precisely because of our baptism, we have become aliens and exiles in this age – the kingdom to which we belong is not of this fleeting, passing world. We are aliens and exiles who long for our true home with God in the Heavenly Jerusalem – we are aliens and exiles who enter this season of Advent not only to commemorate Jesus’ first Advent, but more importantly to wait with joyful hope for the return of the Lord Jesus in his second Advent.
“For that day,” as the gospel reminds us, “will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth.” Therefore, Jesus continues, we must “not let our hearts become drowsy… [we must] be vigilant at all times.”
We, of course, don’t know the day when Jesus will return, but it is a certain fact that we are living in the end times, the close of this present age. The end times began with the first advent of Christ, his Incarnation, and will culminate in his final return – how long these end times will last, only God knows.
The whole point of Jesus’ apocalyptic discourse in the gospel is not to frighten us – though we are told that people will die of fright at the sight of the signs and their anticipation of what is coming – but his apocalyptic discourse is to give us hope and to tell us where to look. “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul,” as the Psalms encourages us.
It is meant to focus our attention on this Son of Man coming on the clouds, the Son of Man who is the embodiment of God, the Incarnate Word – it should focus us on Jesus’ Second Advent. We can’t keep our eyes fixed on the always-chaotic and always-passing world – we must participate in it, for it is the path of our salvation – but we can’t rely on this fleeting, bodily life. Let us rather keep our eyes fixed on the Son of Man, who links us to the very power of God.
Say yes to the world so as to live in it, but say no to it so as to gain eternal life.
Love it, appreciate it, be fascinated by it, but realize how fleeting, passing, and insubstantial it all is, ultimately.
Advent, adventus, means that Christ is coming to us, and we must watch for him, look to him, and wait for him. This season leading up to Christmas is all about where we focus our spiritual attention, and what ultimately matters. What are we doing to prepare our hearts – for much like Lent, Advent is time of preparation – what are we doing to prepare our hearts, our souls, our lives for Jesus? What have we given power to in the world that distracts us from him?
Make it a resolution this Advent season to turn off whatever it is that distracts you, whatever in the world you have given power to. Ultimately this time is given to us to help us understand how our lives are to be incorporated into the very life of Christ, the Word made Flesh, the Son of Man coming on the clouds, the food and drink, his very Body and Blood, we are offered from the altar.