In this excellent and very moving homily for 1st Sunday of Advent, Year C, Father Hanly talks about the three comings of the Lord.
Readings for Mass
First Reading: Jeremiah 33:14-16
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14
Second Reading: First Thessalonians 3:12–4:2
Gospel: Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
Recording of Homily
Transcript of Homily
There are really three comings of the Lord and each one in its own way is very important for us to understand. The word Advent is a Latin word, “advenio.” It means “the coming.” Not “he came” but “the coming.” It has an idea of a constancy in it and not just arrival at one time and not at another. If you look at the whole Old Testament and you look at the readings, you can understand what this means.
The first coming, of course, is the coming of the child, the coming of the Saviour, the coming of Emmanuel, God with us, and he comes in Bethlehem. And this is an historical coming. But what makes this so much more important is the longing and the hope that the children of Israel brought down through the centuries two thousand years, beginning with Abraham and all the way to when Joseph and Mary went to the little village, the little town of Bethlehem, the seat of King David of olden days, and there was born the child.
The first coming is God comes in weakness, God comes in the quiet of the night, God comes like a helpless child, in need of men and women to take care of him, to watch over him, to feed him, to do all these unbelievable things when you think that the Blessed Mother and Joseph are raising a child who is God Himself.
And so this coming is well worth all the effort we put in to celebrate. It is the custom to kind of downplay the commercial side of Christmas but everybody knows that seeing through the commercial side of Christmas is the gift of God His Son, the gift of God who comes Himself, weak, helpless and needy, that we might know that in the mystery of God there is a great yearning to experience the way that we experience, to feel the things that a human being feels and to become one with us. It is as if He comes all the way down from the highest of heaven and from now on He has come and He has come to stay and He continues to be with us.
The second coming is more dramatic. The second coming is the end of the world. And this is how St. Luke describes the end of the world:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars,
and on earth nations will be in dismay,
perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.
People will die of fright
in anticipation of what is coming upon the world,
for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
And then they will see the Son of Man
coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
But when these signs begin to happen,
stand erect and raise your heads
because your redemption is at hand.
The second coming, when will it come? No one knows. Jesus says “Only the Father knows.”
But this kind of desolation, built up over the centuries among the Jewish people of a great fearsome judgment, it’s the Judgment Day, the day that we should be brought forth before God and we would be judged for what we really are. And of course this day described in the Old Testament with great fearsome language as I just read to you: the darkness, the terror, the fear.
And then, of course, Luke adds the promise of Jesus, because for all of us there is a new element. It is then, in the midst of the darkness, when it seems that everything is lost and the whole world as we know it has been torn asunder and there’s lightning in the sky and there’s fire on the earth, Jesus says, “That is the time I will come in a cloud.” The cloud is the symbol of God. “I will come in a cloud with the angels. And I will come and begin the new world.” The world where love triumphs over hate, the love where people really begin to understand each other and care for each other and love each other, for this is the world that God has intended and this is the world that will be initiated when Jesus comes the second time.
For us this means that we are in this world awaiting that world to take place and what are we supposed to do? Sit around, talk about it, or celebrate Christmas and then forget, or hear the end of the world and wonder when it is going to come? No, because something happened in the meantime.
And what happened in the meantime is the little child grew up. And the little child grew up with a purpose and a meaning. And the purpose and the meaning was what? The purpose of the meaning was to teach us how to love, how to live, how to care, how to be human beings, not when the end of the world comes, but here and now, and move history forward to that great day when all will be changed and God will finally triumph.
What are we supposed to do? What he told us. He said, “Yes, I will go away,” he was talking about his crucifixion, “but I will come back,” and he was talking about his resurrection. And the Risen Lord will be with us as he said, “I will be with you all days even to the consummation of the world.”
And now we have that elusive third coming. And the third coming is that Jesus is with us. The Risen Lord will be with us on the journey, down through the years, no matter how long it takes, will be at our side, never abandon us. And, of course, this is the real joy of Advent: the knowing of, and the loving of, this Messiah who comes to lead us safely home.
The world has been described as a terrible place. Maybe about ten years ago in Hong Kong we feel it was a wonderful place and now we are a little frightened because things seem to be changing and all things we put our trust in and our hope in and our love in are beginning to deteriorate or at least tarnish a bit and we wonder what the future holds.
When we think of these things, we think more of the dark side of life, in the darkness, and what is to become of us and what will happen, what will the future bring. And all these questions are open: and what of our children and what of our future. This is natural and it should be so.
But we have Advent. And Advent is the season of hope, because the promise is no matter what happens one truth will last: “I will be with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.”
And we know that it is Jesus with us, guiding us. That no matter how dark it gets, we know that his light will shine through. It is his light that we follow. Yes, of course, the darkness, but the light shines only brighter in times of darkness.
And so in times of worry, we search for the light and we look for the light. And what is the light? The light is to find God. And what is it to find God and where do we find Him? And Jesus says look into each other’s eyes and you will find God because you will find me, for I have come to be one with each and every one of you.
I am going to tell a story that is very, very true and very, very sad, but it has only one point so you will bear with me. Elie Wiesel, who was a famous writer, and is a famous writer, grew up in Auschwitz, one of the worst of the concentration camps, of the camps where over six million Jews perished during the Second World War. And he was in New York one day. He himself had lost a father, he’d lost a mother, he’d lost a sister. And he alone was left to tell the story of these terrible, terrible times, in the most terrible place in the world.
Elie Wiesel, he was in New York City, and suddenly he saw a man that walked by him. And he turned around and he recognized him, but he didn’t chase after him because he was in the camps, and when you’ve been in the camps, in that terrible desolation, you do not run up to people and throw your arms around them, because you do not know what it has done to them. Many forget, but most remember, and all the memories are full of pain.
But Wiesel remembered and he remembered as a little boy, he was only about nine or ten years old, and his father had already died and left him alone. And he was standing out in the area and it became dark. And one of the trains pulled in. And when the trains pull in to Auschwitz, they are bringing, like cattle, the victims that are going to be fed into the ovens and those that will be allowed to escape death for a time, because they will be put to work for the people in the camp.
As they came in, the old people were put to one side and immediately brought to the crematoriums. The hearty ones, the hale ones, they were taken care of and fed, because they were going to be the workers. And then the children, the children were put in another line, standing outside the crematorium, because they had no time for children and they too were going to be led to the ovens.
And suddenly a man appeared, a Jewish man, who was told that he must keep the children quiet, because they were not quite ready. And so he stood among the children outside the crematorium and they began to look at each other with those kind of fearful eyes and they looked at him and he decided, well, he’d do what he could.
And so he began teaching them little songs and ditties. And for a while the songs lasted and the children were content, but then they got a little tired. So then he began, because he was a mimic, he began to mimic and act out things, and make them laugh, and tell funny stories. And for a while the laugher filled the air. But then that, too, went away. And, finally, he taught them, because he was Jewish and they were Jewish, how to say the prayers. And they began to pray. And the prayers, even the prayers, went away. And, in the end, all the children could do was cry. And what he was to do, he who was in charge? He sat down with them and he cried with them.
And suddenly the whistle blew, and they were all lined up, and they were lined up in front of the crematorium. One after another the children went in. And what did he do? He went to the front and he was desolate, but he hugged each one and kissed each one and blessed each one and finally it was over. And as he walked back to the camps, all the guards laughed at him, because he was such a silly man to waste so much time on just a silly group of little children that didn’t matter to anyone.
Advent is the time when we discover hope in the midst of complete desolation. Advent is the time when we answer the question “What am I supposed to do?” We don’t say “Well, I think I’ll get an education,” or “Well, I think I’ll open a factory,” or “Well, I will do these things,” because there’s a step before that, and a step very necessary, so that when we do all these wonderful things, and they will be wonderful things for lots of people, we know the most important step.
And the most important step was, in the midst of desolation, you must continue to love and to serve, and to serve and to love. Because what’s important is not what you do, but being there with the children and taking care of them as best you can, giving your last ounce of energy until the end. And when the end is black, you look up to God and say, “Take them God, for they are yours and you will let no more harm come to them.”
When we say, rather glibly, that Jesus has come to teach us how to love, Jesus has come to teach us how to live, Jesus has come to teach us what it means to be a human being. And in that whole camp, there was only one man who really understood all those things: what it means to love, what it means to be a human being, what it means to have faith, what it means to act for God when God does not seem to exist.
Christmas is a merry month. Christmas is full of toys, Christmas is full of all these joyful things. And it should be enjoyed, and it brings families together, as long as we remember that among us are people who have lost loved ones and this Christmas will be an empty one for them and very hard. And we will reach out to them. Christmas is a time to be generous, giving.
And all these things are true, but Christmas is the time to recognize that the little child in the crib, the little boy born to save the world, who died on the cross, desolate and alone, and this is also a Christmas. For this is what he came to do: to teach us how, when, and where, to love. And to love as God loves. And this is our Christmas.
And this is the way we must come to church and pray for the strength to be like the little child of Bethlehem, to lead the life of the little child of Bethlehem.
And always remember, it is people who come first, and reaching out to help the most needy is first on the agenda of the things we must do to celebrate Christmas.
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This homily was delivered on 29th November 2009.
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