Sunday December 2, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier First Sunday of Advent
Reading I (Isaiah 2:1-5) Reading II (Romans 13:11-14)
Gospel (St. Matthew 24:37-44)
In the first reading today, we hear from the prophet Isaiah that the day is coming when all the people are going to come to the Lord’s house in Jerusalem. He says, "‘Come, let us climb the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that we may receive instruction and walk in His ways,’ because from Jerusalem will come forth instruction and the word of the Lord from Zion." One would naturally think that "the house of the God of Jacob," putting it into its context, would imply that everybody would come up to the temple in Jerusalem. But that is not the case. As we recognize, that temple was destroyed in the year 70. And so the question is what does it mean?
That house of the Lord in Zion, the mountain of the house of God which is established as the highest mountain and raised above all the hills, is Jesus Christ. We saw, in fact, in the readings of daily Mass just earlier this week, that there were four kingdoms that were going to be raised up when Nebuchadnezzar had seen the vision of the statue. And then there was going to be a stone, which was hewn from a mountain without human hands being put to it, and it would crush those kingdoms. In fact, it would grow and become the largest kingdom, spread throughout the entire world and it would be a kingdom without end. That, once again, is Jesus Christ. It is His Church. It is the place where instruction comes forth.
And more than just simply the word of God coming forth, Jesus, of course, is the Word of God. It is to Him that we want to come. It is to Him that we want to receive instruction because He is the Word of God. And it is that which we need to get deeply into our hearts and into our minds: that the Word of God is living. "The Word of God is a two-edged sword," as Saint Paul tells us; and it cuts to the very core. It is not something which is optional to us because when God gives instruction it is something which is absolute truth and it is thereby something which must be accepted and must be lived.
And so, when Jesus tells us in the Gospel reading that we have to be prepared because we do not know the day upon which the Son of Man will return, that is what the Church sets this season of Advent aside for: to prepare. It is not a time quite like Lent, where in Lent we wear purple and we make reparation for our sins; but rather, it is a penitential season of preparation where we prepare our souls, preparing ourselves not only for the glorious feast of Christmas, the day upon which Our Lord appeared in the flesh, but more than that, it is preparation for the day upon which Our Lord will return.
Saint Paul tells us that we have to "put aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light." Once again, we ask ourselves about this light because we hear the same thing in the prophet Isaiah in the first reading today, [where he is] talking about the light of the Lord. The light of the Lord, once again, is Jesus Christ. We see that, for instance, at His Birth and shortly thereafter at the Presentation, when Our Lady and Saint Joseph bring the Child Jesus into the temple and Simeon, the elderly man to whom the Holy Spirit had revealed that he would not die until he had seen the Anointed of the Lord, praises God and calls Jesus "the light to the nations and the glory of Your people Israel." He is the light to the nations. The instruction of God, the Word of God, enlightens the mind and it enflames the heart. And that light for our mind and for our heart is the Lord Himself. He is the light. In fact, Saint John makes the very same point - when we talk about the light and the darkness: putting aside the works of darkness and putting on the armor of light – [he] tells us that "the light came into the darkness, and the darkness was not able to overcome it".
The darkness is what this world is enveloped in. Isaiah talks about that as well, how there are "thick clouds that cover the peoples" and that they "walked in the shadow of death". That is what this world is all about. It is enshrouded in darkness. It is enshrouded in the clouds that cover everything so that we are not able to see clearly. The devil, who hides in the darkness, is very much at work because he is trying to destroy the light; he is trying to cover the light so that nothing but darkness will be able to be recognized. But we have the promise that the darkness could not overcome the light. The light shines in the darkness. And so, Saint Peter tells us to keep our eyes on this prophetic word as we would on a light shining in the darkness until the first rays of dawn are seen. Think about being out in the country where there are no streetlights on a dark, cloudy night where we would not be able to see the moon and the stars and yet, on the farmhouse way up ahead, what we are going to see is the light above the door or out by the barn shining in the darkness. One will be able to focus on that light and know exactly where it is that you need to go because all you have to do is follow the light.
Jesus told us, once again, the same thing: that a city upon a hill cannot be hidden because it shines like the light. And He tells us that we must do the same: that we are to shine, that we are to be the light to the world, that we have to be the leaven in the world. Jesus Himself is the light, but each one of us is a member of Jesus Christ and so that light has been enflamed within each one of us. Our Lord told us that He came down into this world to light a fire and how He wished it were already ignited. That is a fire which must burn in your heart and in mine. And it is a light which must go out. It cannot be hidden underneath the bushel basket of our day-to-day lives, but instead, it must shine forth in our day-to-day lives.
We are to bring Jesus Christ out into the darkness of this world. We are to bring the light of Christ, the truth, out into this world that is filled with ignorance and filled even worse with lies. It is not enough that people do not know the truth, but they have accepted falsehood. The only ones who are going to be able to show them the truth are the ones who are convinced of it. And so we need, really, to ask ourselves: "How convinced am I?" If we are convinced of anything on the natural level, we let it be seen, we let it be known, we tell people about it because we know that it is the truth; it is something that works and it is something that is obvious and it is something we want everyone to know about. But when it comes to the spiritual and the supernatural level, it should be even more [so]. If we are convinced of the truth – and Jesus is the truth – then we should make sure that we are letting other people know. If we are burying our faith under a bushel basket so that it only shines on Sunday morning for a little bit of time, and then we hide it away for the rest of the time, what good is that light doing? It is not burning brightly within us and it is certainly not burning brightly for those who are in the dark; it is shining only a tiny little bit. The Lord tells us that He wants a blaze, not a flicker. He wants a blaze so that it will be seen everywhere in the darkness. That is what He wants from each and every one of us: to put aside the darkness, to put aside the works of darkness, to get rid of the ignorance of the mind, to get rid of the weakening of the will, to strengthen ourselves so that we will be able to stand fast on the day of the Lord.
The Lord tells us that we do not know the day or the hour upon which the Son of Man will be arriving. He tells us that if the master of the house had known the hour in which the thief was going to come, he would have stayed awake. He tells us that people are going to be marrying and being given in marriage, right up until the day of the Lord. It is going to be life as usual right up to the day of the Lord, and then He will come like lightning that flashes from one end of the sky to the next. You do not know when the lightning is going to strike; suddenly, it is there. With that in mind, you can simply ask yourself: "What if Jesus were to return today?" If you knew that Our Lord was going to be returning within the hour, what would you do? What would be your response? If I were able to stand here - and I am not - but if I were able to stand here and tell you that Jesus Christ is going to come within this hour, what would be your response? Would you stand up, hold your head high, and look forward to the return of Our Blessed Lord? Or would you immediately begin to panic and think about all the things that you did not do that you should have done; about all the things that, unfortunately, you did that you should not have done; about all the sins that maybe need to be confessed; about how the house needs to be put in order – not your physical home, but your spiritual one; about all the things that need to happen in our lives; of what Our Lord is requiring of us that we kept on saying, "Well, maybe someday I will be able to get to that"? If you would not be able to stand up and hold your head high and await – indeed, rejoice in - the coming of Our Lord, then you are not prepared; you have chosen darkness over light, at least in some areas of your life.
And so the Church tells us now that we need to prepare. The first coming of Christ into this world is a foreshadowing of the Second Coming. Even though the people of the time knew the exact time - the prophets had foretold it, the rabbis had taught it; they knew that the day was at hand - they were completely at fault because they were looking for the Messiah. We see that when they asked John the Baptist if he was the Messiah. We see it in the Acts of the Apostles, when they wondered if Jesus was the Messiah because there were four others before Him that had claimed to be the Messiah and people had followed them. We see them asking the Lord if He is the Messiah: If He is the Anointed One, just tell them in plain words, and He said, "I have told you." So they were without excuse. They knew that the Lord was going to be coming at that time but the daily concerns and all the troubles of life and all the busyness of their time completely clouded them so that when the Lord was born into the world, the world did not recognize it.
Even though we can live in anticipation of the Second Coming (which we do not know when it is going to happen), when it comes many people will be totally oblivious of the fact that the time is at hand because they will have gotten themselves too busy about the works of darkness and not busy enough about the works of light. If the Lord were to come today, how important would your bank account be to you? If the Lord were to come today, how important would buying a new home or a new car or more things for your house be? How important would all of the collections of your material things be - the knickknacks and the hobbies and all of the other things that we have spent so much time and effort trying to put together? What is most important to us? Think of the effort that we put into doing things that sometimes are completely dark, or the effort that we put into things that are not bad, like the little collections of knickknacks and so on. There is nothing wrong with having those things, unless they are attachments that separate us from the Lord, but, in and of themselves, they are not a problem. But think of how much they mean to us and how much effort we put into trying to collect them and keep them in good order. And how quick we are, when someone comes into our house, to make sure that we point it out to them so that they can see the fruit of our effort. If we would put that much effort and time into taking care of things for this world, think of how much more time and effort we should put into things of the next world.
We are to look to that mountain of God, and to the Cross which is planted on top of that mountain. Our Lord went to Jerusalem, to the mountain of the house of the Lord in Jerusalem, and it was there that He was crucified. He is the beacon shining in the darkness. He is the city upon the hill which cannot be hidden. He is the light that shines brightly so that all of us can climb the mountain of the Lord and come to the house of the Lord for instruction and for the Word of the Lord, who is Jesus Christ. Do we want the light? Do we want the instruction? Do we want the Word of the Lord? Or do we want the darkness, the ignorance, and the words of this world instead? That is the choice that we need to make.
The Church now calls us to prepare ourselves, to prepare ourselves spiritually for the celebration of Our Lord’s first coming; and to prepare ourselves to put aside the works of darkness so that when the day of the Lord is at hand we will not be found wallowing in the mire of our sinfulness. We will not be found in the clouds and the gloom of the darkness of this world, but we will "shine like the light in the midst of a depraved generation", as Saint Peter tells us that Christians are to do. And we will be found ready. We will be able to stand tall and lift up our heads and welcome Our Lord. That is what the Church is asking of us. Use this time of Advent, not as a time for partying, not as a time for celebration of worldly things, but as a time of penance in preparation for the coming of Our Lord.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.