Homily – Advent 1 (Year A)

Fr Columba McCann OSB

What’s happening in our world? Where are we heading? – with war, talk about nuclear weapons, global warming, dictatorships, or the next best thing? It’s hard to know exactly how it is all going to play out from day to day, and there can be surprises, both pleasant an unpleasant; but our Christian faith is that, in the end, literally the end, all will be well. Christ will come again. And when the Son of Man comes, all that oppresses and disfigures our human world will be finally swept away, like the story of Noah and the flood.

There is a lot that we would love to see swept away out of our world: hatred, war, talk of nuclear weapons, abuse of the weak by the strong, starvation, corruption, dishonesty. The hopes for a different kind of world have never died, the hopes for what the Bible calls ‘the new heavens and the new earth’, or ‘the kingdom of God’. The prophet Isaiah dreamed about such a world. He envisaged a time when people would no longer prepare for war, when weapons would be destroyed and their technology re-harnessed towards feeding the hungry. He foresaw people of all nations streaming towards the temple of Jerusalem in order to worship and learn the ways of God.

With the coming of Christ, with his death and resurrection, a new temple was built. That temple is Jesus himself. Millions of people have streamed to him, have learnt to walk in his ways, and in him have worshipped God. Countless people have been an oasis of peace in their own family, their own neighbourhood through their Christian faith. Men and women too many to number have literally fed the hungry in the name of Christ. The mountain of the temple of the Lord, Isaiah says, will tower about the mountains. What would it be like if the person of Christ were to tower over everything else in my life? If the person of Christ, the words of Christ, the power of Christ, the love of Christ were to tower over every other aspect of my life? ‘Prefer nothing whatsoever to Christ,’ St Benedict says. That’s why we are here. This is
what we yearn for deep down. And Advent is a time to make space for him. The amazing thing is that the kingdom of God is pouring out into the world right here where we gather. Whenever, wherever we gather for the Holy Eucharist we are standing in God’s throne room, gathered around the Lamb of God, once slain, who lives for ever. The wonder, the forgiveness, the unity, the adoration, the love into which we are invited can spill out into the world through us, if we receive it and treasure it above everything else. If things as simple as bread and
wine can become the living presence of Christ among us, it’s a promise of what could happen to the whole world.

The human world was always intended by God to be luminous with his presence. It will happen finally when Christ comes again, but it’s planted here among us now in the Mass. What happens under the radar here will finally come out into the open. And Christ’s coming will be felt either like the intrusion of a burglar, or the return well-loved master, depending on what each of us have been up to in the meantime. His advice is that we remain awake, alert. Whenever the Pope appears at a big event in the Vatican, like a papal audience for example, you will normally see some of the Swiss guards standing discreetly nearby. Maybe you’ve even been there yourself. I’m told that their uniforms were designed by Michelangelo. A bit like the guards at
Buckingham Palace, their outfits attract tourists and cameras and end up on postcards. But if you were to run forward from the crowd and try to get between one of those guards and the pope, I think you would meet far more than a colourful costume. You would come up against a professional who is calm but vigilant. You would be deflected in seconds. Being one of the guards to the pope must be an unusual and interesting job, but every Christian is called to a far more exalted post: we are to take our place before God, and direct our gaze calmly
and consistently towards Christ. And like good soldiers we can, with vigilant ease, deflect anything that gets between us and God. One might ask: What about working, doing the shopping, looking after family, putting food on the table? All of that is doing God’s work. Far from getting between us and God, these things unite us to him. But our privilege is to stand in God’s presence and keep our attention there, staying awake to something wonderful, like sentries in his throne room.

St Paul mentions the kinds of things we need to deflect, the things that do get between us and God: jealousy, wrangling, the kind of self-indulgence that is harmful to ourselves and others. So we need
to be calmly vigilant, our eyes open to what is around us and within us.
One day, as we watch, we shall see the Son of Man face to face, either at the end of our lives, or the end of the world, whichever comes first. As we move inevitably towards this meeting, we can prepare by allowing him already to tower over everything else, everyone else in our lives. We can enjoy the privilege of having our attention always towards the Son of God, and like a professional, calmly deflect anything that gets between us and him.

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