Sunday, 3 December 2006

Advent I - A Homily

Happy New Year to all of you!

Once again we start our journey over the next fifty-two weeks, commemorating the chief mysteries of the Faith as we pass from Advent to Christmas, from Lent to Easter and through the weeks of Ordinary Time, which this year will focus particularly on the Gospel of St Luke. Our liturgical journey begins today with the First Sunday of Advent.

Advent is one of my favourite times of year – the traditions, the feasts, the hymns and the excitement leading up to Christmas make it a very beautiful period indeed. But it is also one of the least understood Seasons and every year it is an increasingly up-hill struggle to resist the commercialism of Christmas and observe Advent in any real sense. This year I heard the first rendition of Silent Night in late October thanks to a busker on the Underground; already the decorations and trees are up and Santa seems to have arrived in the local shopping centre.

Advent 2006 is only three weeks long, since (rather confusingly) the Fourth Sunday of Advent is also Christmas Eve, so it is important that we make the most of it. None of us, priests included, will be able to avoid carol services, nativity plays and Christmas parties over the next few weeks – not to mention the writing of Christmas cards and last minute shopping for presents. But there are some things we can do in order to ensure that our Advent is in tune with the mind of the Church.

Just as Easter (the Feast of the Redemption) has Lent as a time of preparation and purification, so Christmas (the Feast of the Incarnation) has Advent, which is sometimes called the ‘little Lent.’ We don’t normally think of Advent as time for giving things up or taking extra things on, but that is very much its spirit - a great opportunity for changing our spiritual gears, for cleansing our consciences by going to Confession, for giving up bad habits and for spending more time in prayer, spiritual reading and good works.

Advent is a time for waiting. We wait expectantly, together with the prophets and the people of Israel, for the coming of the Messiah, born in a stable in Bethlehem. We also await His Second Coming – this is actually the focus of the first two weeks of Advent. You probably noticed that our Gospel today makes no mention of Mary or Joseph or angels or shepherds or innkeepers, but rather of signs in the heavens, of ‘nations in agony’ and ‘men dying of fear,’ and of ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.’ We begin the Church’s year by looking to the end of time and asking how watchful and ready we are for the Lord’s return. This is perhaps the key question we ask ourselves in Advent and it should encourage our meditation and lead us to form good resolutions for the new ecclesiastical year. Are we awake to God and awake for other people?

Everybody loves Christmas and I for one am itching to play my CDs of Christmas music and put up the crib in my study. However, let us not forget that the three weeks of Advent are followed by the twelve joyful Days of Christmas. Indeed, the Christmas Season continues until Candlemas (2 February) – it is only then that the great Christmas Tree and giant Nativity scene on St Peter’s Square in Rome are taken down. The weeks after Christmas are the proper time for decorations, trees and carols. Now is the time for stepping back and spending time in prayer and penance as we wait for the comings of Christ at Bethlehem and at the end of time.

By all means buy your presents, write your cards and stock up with bottles of wine and mince pies. But let’s not allow the empty commercialism of the shops and the media prevent us from keeping Advent seriously – so that by the time we reach 25th December we will have changed interiorly and have drawn closer to the Babe born for us at Bethlehem.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since you mentioned a street performer who played Christmas carols and since you said you are itching to play your CDs of Christmas music... I would like to recommend you check out the Christmas CD of a NYC subway performer, 'Hark! An Angel Sings' - it's heavenly:
I particularly recommend you listen to 'Ave Maria'.

10:59 pm  

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