Archive for December 5th, 2017

Holy Days: Jesus’ Gift List — 1st Sunday of Advent—Year B

December 5, 2017

The prophet Isaiah, who pairs with St. John the Baptist as the one of the two most prominent prophets of the Advent season, cries out in our first reading today:

“Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways,
and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?
Return for the sake of your servants, [your people.]”

“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down…
Would that you might meet us doing right,
that we were mindful of you in our ways!”

Can you relate to that? Does that resonate within you? Do you long for such things, too? We know that Christ has already come, that he will come at Christmas like he did last year, the re-celebration of his first coming some 2,017 years ago. Jesus has already been granted to us, and we too often take him for granted. He told his disciples, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings [and righteous people] desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.” Many ancient peoples waited and longed and hoped and prayed for the Christ to come. In the season of Advent, we cultivate a deeper longing for God like those generations past. This longing leads to devotion, and this devotion to more perfect love. Our long, devotion, and long prepare us for the Lord.

Jesus says in today’s Gospel:

“Watch… you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at [the wee hours], or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!'”

In Jesus’ parable, a man travels abroad, leaving home and placing his servants in charge of their duties. The gatekeeper is ordered to be on the watch, and all are told to be prepared for whatever hour the Lord might arrive. His parable teaches us to be always ready, for either the day of Jesus’ Second Coming or the hour of your death.

Allow me to somewhat alter and re-imagine the parable Jesus told: Imagine the master and lord gathering all of his servants together and saying, “I want each of you to return to meet me here, at my house, on such-and-such a day, at a particular time.” This commandment would be even easier to keep than the instructions in the original tale. Knowing what we know of Jesus’ parables, what could we expect of the wise servants and what would the foolish ones do? A scenario much like this one faces us.

At the Last Supper, when Jesus said “do this in memory of me,” he willed for all his Church to often gather together as one to celebrate his sacrifice, his sacrament, the Eucharist. Through his Church, he instructs us when to gather; on Sundays (that is, the Lord’s Day) and other Holy Days. Unless there exists some grave or serious reason, like sickness, dangerous travel conditions, the need to care for another, or inescapable work, he expects us all to come. The Letter to the Hebrews says, “we should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some…”

In Old Covenant, there were three annual Jewish pilgrimage festivals held in Jerusalem: the Feast of Passover, the Feast of Pentecost, and the Feast of Booths. The Lord obliged his often-busy people to journey far to Jerusalem. Luke’s Gospel tells us the Holy Family journeyed to Jerusalem each year for Passover. The road distance from their Nazareth home to Jerusalem is about 120 miles (or 90 if you cut straight through Samaria.) So, every year, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus walked or rode between 180 and 240 miles round-trip. God insisted on his people’s attendance so they would experience the gifts these Holy Days were. Some Jews may have felt this obligation an unwelcome burden, but their faithful observance gave their hearts an opportunity to be transformed by celebrating the festival and by encountering the Lord at his house, his temple.

The paradox or problem of preaching on the importance of attending Mass is that the people who need to hear it the most are least likely to. The family that comes half of the time has a 50% of hearing; the person who nine out of ten weekends is elsewhere has only a 10% chance; but maybe God’s providence will provide for them to encounter this message, perhaps you could pass along to them the main points.

Our Lady of Vladimir, icon c. 1130 ADI’m preaching about this topic on this First Sunday of Advent in light of the Holy Days of Obligation in this season. For instance, this Friday, December 8th is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the creation of he Virgin Mary free from sin and filled with grace. Jesus wants us to celebrate this feast together with him and his mother. This year, Fourth Sunday of Advent (Dec 23rd / 24th) comes right before Christmas (Dec 25th.) So people are wondering, “Do we have to come to Mass twice?” Some ask in order to plan accordingly out of love for our Lord, while some ask hoping to get out of something. Either way, the answer is yes.

Maybe you feel a temptation to rebel, or an involuntary interior groan at that news. But remember how it goes for the wise in Jesus’ parables and the rewards they receive. Jesus says, “To the one who has, more will be given; from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Instead of regarding the call of this binding obligation (which it is) as merely a rule, re-frame it as a gift on Jesus’ list this year. Our faithful observance is a gift to him that may entail some small measure of sacrifice from us, but Jesus hopes to give us far surpassing gifts in return; the gift of himself and every good thing that comes with him. Our Lord is never outdone in generosity, so let us give him the generous gift of ourselves on Holy Days and throughout this Advent season.

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