Advent 1 A

Fr. Jude Botelho:

Towards the Mountain
Alan Paton was a South African writer. Among the books he wrote was the haunting story, Cry the Beloved Country, which so poignantly described the situation in South Africa under apartheid. Paton had a dream. He dreamt of a new day for his beloved South Africa, a day in which there would be justice and equality for all. For this reason he entered into politics, and fought to end the iniquitous system of apartheid. For decades he followed his dream, and worked generously and courageously to make it a reality. It was a dream that many said would not be realized. Yet it was. Unfortunately, Paton did not live to see it. He died before the dawn. – The prophet Isaiah had an even bolder dream, a dream of universal brotherhood and peace. Isaiah’s vision was a splendid one. It would only be realized by the coming of the Lord Jesus.
- Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies’
The second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans is a wake-up call, and it urges us to turn away from the darkness of sin and evil and walk into the light of Christ. We can no longer sleep, for though it is not yet full day, we live no longer in darkness which favours idleness and dishonesty. If we really believe in Christ, if we are impatient for our hope to be realized, we must act as people in love with the light and truth of Christ. To be a Christian is to live in the light and walk in the light, striving to let His light shine in our lives.

Wake-up call
God’s wake-up call can come to people in different ways, and will mean different things to different people. In Mexico in the diocese of Bishop Samuel Ruiz almost 80 % of the population of his diocese was indigenous. The Bishop has become known as ‘the defender of the Indians.’ But it wasn’t always like that. In a talk given in Westminster Cathedral in Lent 1996, Bishop Ruiz said: “For twenty years I was like a sleeping fish. I had my eyes open but saw nothing. I was just proud to be in the diocese where the churches were crowded. Then one day I saw an Indian tied to a tree being whipped by his boss, because he had refused to work an extra eight hours.” That incident opened the bishop’s eyes and he began to look. What he saw being done to his people spurred him into action. He got involved in negotiations with the Zapato rebels and the Mexican government. One of the phrases we often use is ‘it dawned on me’. In this way we recognize that it is not enough to be physically awake. We need to be awake socially, morally and spiritually.
- Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies’
In today’s Gospel Christ clearly urges his disciples to stay awake because we do not know when the Son of Man will return. Each day summons us to awake from our sleep. Some days we are enthusiastic in anticipating a great day ahead, on other days we dread the beginning of a new day. Life may be empty and monotonous for us. We may be unemployed, or retired, sickly or old and there is nothing to look forward to. No one has a perfect life. All of us have some difficulty or another. It is how we face life that makes all the difference. Advent issues a spiritual wake up call for all of us, and has an awakening power. To be spiritually awake means to be open, receptive, vigilant and active. To be spiritually awake is to be attentive to God and others. In today’s Gospel Jesus reminds us that in the days of Noah people took it easy, they carried on doing the usual things and were caught off guard when the floods came. Only Noah heeded the warning and built himself and his family an ark to save them from the flood. We are not being asked to run out and build a boat to escape, or to buy a parachute, or construct an anti- raid shelter. We are being asked to listen to the Lord so that we may walk in his path and live according to his precepts and commandments. Jesus also talks of the future coming of the Son of man. We prepare for the future coming by taking responsibility for the present time. The only way we can prepare for an unpredictable event is to make the present a time of fidelity.

There is time!
Three devils were sent to earth to tempt and ruin people. The first one said: “I will tell them that there is no God.” But Satan, the chief of the devils said: “That won’t do, for the people know that there is a God.” The second devil said: “I will proclaim that there is no hell.” “That is not good enough either because man knows there is hell as a punishment for sin.” Then the third one said: “I will convince them that there is plenty of time, So don’t hurry, don’t worry.” “That is an excellent strategy,” said Satan, “Go and ruin the people.”
- Anthony Kolencherry in ‘Living the Word’
"The gospel of this Sunday puts us firmly on the alert. It emphasizes the state of unpreparedness, the sense of false security developed with regard to the unforeseeable coming of the Son of Man. As in the days of Noah, people are not troubled, they go about their business. And suddenly the catastrophe will be upon them: they will be taken, surprised in their torpor, careless as they were of what mattered. The comparison of the Lord to one coming in the night brings out clearly the need for constant watchfulness. At every moment of her history the Church is in constant danger of not hearing the one who knocks at the door, knocks in order to waken Christians to the calls of the Spirit. In our time the Church, and individual Christians, still have a prophetic role to play – to rouse a slumbering world, which is in danger of losing its soul. How are we to remain watchful, how are we to act so that we live in the generous service of God’s kingdom? How are we to go about our affairs so as not to be surprised in the evening of our lives, in the evening of the world, by the judgement of the Lord?”
- Glenstal Sunday Missal

A man came to Buddha and asked him, “Tell me Buddha, are you a God?” “No, I am not a god.” “Are you an angel?” “No, I am not.” “Are you a prophet?” “No, not a prophet either.” “What are you then?” Whereupon Buddha answered… “I am awake.” – Most of us are not awake. We are always in slumber. We are not aware of our own thoughts, feelings and actions. We function most of the time, like an automaton. The enlightened are those who are aware and awake.
- G. Francis Xavier in ‘Inspiring Stories’

Waiting for Godot
Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot focuses on two main characters, Vladimir and Estragon. They sit around waiting for the coming of a mysterious person known only as Godot. As they wait for him they try to recall what their meeting is all about. They know that it is important and that their future depends on Godot’s arrival, but that is all that they can remember. Then two other characters appear on the stage. Vladimir and Estragon are not sure if either one is Godot since they do not know how to recognize him. As the play ends Vladimir and Estragon are left alone on a dark and empty stage, still waiting for Godot to come. –Today’s liturgy ushers the season of ‘Advent’ Advent celebrates our Lord’s coming in three ways: first, in past history, when he was born a man; second, in the present time, when he comes at Christmas; third, in the future, when he will return at the end of time. In a sense, this final and future coming of Christ is a process, one that will begin for us personally when we die and time will end for us. For the moment, we are still living in a ‘mean-time’. That is, the time between Christ’s coming in past history to share our humanity and his coming in the future to lead us into glory. Lest our waiting in this ‘mean-time’ be empty and meaningless, as it seemed to be for Vladimir and Estragon in Beckett’s play, we celebrate an Advent culminating in a Christmas each year to recall why we are waiting and for whom we are awaiting. Another purpose of Advent is to instruct us how to recognize the Lord’s coming – in the duties we carry out, or the things that happen to us, or in the people we meet. During Advent we have to discipline ourselves to see Christ in every one and in every situation. Our waiting then will not be one of frustration, but rather one of readiness and anticipation.
- Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’

1.      Andrew Greeley: 


Advent is a time of warning, a time of preparation, a time of urgency. It is supposed to prepare for Christmas, but the Christmas of everyday life as much if not more than the festival of December 25. While the apocalyptic rhetoric of today's Gospel might not be the exact words of Jesus and while in any case that rhetoric was not meant to be taken literally, the urgency of the message is surely his. We must not slip into the routine of ordinary life and miss the opportunity of life itself.   

 Time and with it life slips through our fingers. Tomorrow never comes but ends up yesterday until there are few tomorrows left in our life and all too many yesterdays. It looked like forever and it was only a very short time, so little time. And so much waste, so many lost opportunities. Advent is a time of recalling opportunities lost in the past and taking steps to miss fewer opportunities in the days and weeks and years ahead, such as these may be.


Once upon a time there were two eighth grade girls,  Lois and Ella Mae, who were both sensational volley ball players. Lois was the captain of the team and the best player on the team. Ella Mae was co-captain and the second best player on the team. They were also “best friends” and were together all the time even when they weren’t playing volleyball. Ella Mae didn’t mind being second best and Lois didn’t think being best was all that big a deal. 

 There was one difference between them, however, and I bet you know what it is. I wouldn’t want to say that Lois was lazy exactly, but she was just a big deficient in the work ethic area, know what I mean? Ella Mae on the other hand was almost compulsively committed to practice. Hardest working player in the whole school, including the boy athletes. Lois used to tell herself – and everyone else who would listen to her – that Ella Mae had to work hard because she didn’t quite have all the talent at a co-captain ought to have. WELL, the team wom their section and their division, and their region. They were really good, Lois was the best spiker in the city and Ella Mae never gave up on what looked like a lost point. 

 Finally they came to the city championship against their traditional rivals, St. Adelbert. Ella Mae wanted to practice every day the week before. Lois said two days was enough. After all, there was more to being in eighth grade than volleyball. You know what happened? Sure you do. They lost to St A by one point because they were just a little bit out of condition. Don’t cry, Ellie, Lois said to her friend in the local ice cream store where they were eating pink pistachio peppermint ice cream. We’ll have lots of championship games in high school. BUT, Ella Mae sobbed, we’ll never have an eighth grade championship game again. 

2.      From Sermons: 

Today marks the beginning of the season of Advent, a time of preparation, a time of going toward the coming again of the Messiah, a time of great expectation and great anticipation. But exactly what is it that we anticipate? What are we getting ready for? What do we expect to happen? Do we anticipate the end of the world, as some religious cults always do at this time of the year? Are we preparing our hearts and spirits to receive again the coming the coming of the Christ child into the world? Or are we preparing for yet another month-long shopping spree that some have called "economic first-degree murder" - willfully and with malice aforethought murdering our bank accounts? Or maybe we're getting ready for the seven to ten pounds the average American will gain during the season (Lord, please let me be an underachiever this year!)? Or are we preparing for the suicidal traffic jams at the mall, or the general atmosphere of surliness and desperation? (A couple of years back I remember hearing on the local news in West Tennessee that shoppers were actually coming to blows for the right to buy a Holiday Barbie doll!) 

Are we getting ready for the depression, the anxiety, and even the rage that accompanies the secular holiday season? If we allow ourselves to get caught up in the consumer Christmas - and I firmly believe that we in America celebrate two separate events on December 25 - we can easily find that instead of preparing to sing "O Holy Night" we will find ourselves living out one holy nightmare... 

 It is officially "count-down" time. The moment the red cranberry sauce is wiped off our chins and cleaned off the tablecloth, Black Friday starts. And on Black Friday comes the count-down of the diminishing days until Christmas. That tick-tock of passing time is supposed to induce us into a buying panic and jump-start our frenzied consumerism. It pretty much works. 

But the church has its own "countdown to Christmas." It is called "The Season of Advent." Instead of being a time of consumer manic panic, Advent is a time of preparation for the gift of a miraculous presence. This "preparation" is not about decking the halls or trimming the tree. This "preparation" is not about baking cookies or wrapping packages. This "preparation" is about a truth which comes into the world, not abstract pure and antiseptic clean, but cradled in dirt and mangered in mystery.

Advent is an alarm clock, a moment of truth to rouse out of the "get-by and keep-going" stupor of this world and WAKE UP!  

Wake up to the impending gift of a new beginning.
Wake up to the first baby steps of the Kingdom entering this world through a stable of animals and a cradle of straw.
Wake up from our dogmatic slumbers into the new light of life.

Wake up to the epiphany of Jesus in the world, and in us... 

 The Warning and Promise of Advent

William Willimon tells the story of a funeral he attended when he was serving a small congregation in rural Georgia. One of his members' relatives died, so Willimon and his wife attended the funeral held in an off-brand, country Baptist church. He writes: "I had never seen anything like it. The preacher began to preach. He shouted; he flailed his arms. 'It's too late for Joe. He's dead. But it ain't too late for you. People drop dead every day. Why wait? Now is the day for decision. Give your life to Jesus.' "

Willimon goes on to suggest that this was the worst thing he had ever seen. He fumed and fussed at his wife Patsy, complaining that the preacher had done the worst thing possible for a grieving family - manipulating them with guilt and shame. Patsy agreed. But then she said: "Of course the worst part of it all is that what he said is true."

My friends, each one of us lives in the shadow of the apocalypse - the dark reality of the end of our time and the end of the world's time. That is the warning of Advent. But there is also good news. There is also the promise of Advent - the promise that in the darkness, in the shadows, in the unpredictable anxiety of our unfinished lives, God is present. God is in control, and God will come again. With each candle we light, the shadows recede a bit, and the promise comes closer. With each candle we light, we are proclaiming that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness will never overcome it. The promise is that wherever there is darkness and dread in our lives, wherever there is darkness and dread in the world around us, God is present to help us endure. God is in charge, and hope is alive. And as long and as interminable as the night seems, morning will come - in God's good time and God's good way.

Susan R. Andrews, The Offense of Grace, CSS Publishing Company 

Christ May Be Closer Than You Know 

Martin, the Cobbler, is Leo Tolstoy's story about a lonely shoemaker who is promised in a dream that Christ will come to visit his shop. The next day Martin rises early, gets his shop ready, prepares a meal and waits. The only one who showed up in the morning was an old beggar who came by and asked for rest. Martin gave him a room he had prepared for his divine guest. The only one to show up in the afternoon was an old lady with a heavy load of wood. She was hungry and asks for food. He gave her the food he had prepared for his divine guest. As evening came, a lost boy wandered by. Martin took him home, afraid all the while he would miss the Christ. That night in his prayers he asks the Lord, "Where were You? I waited all day for You."

The Lord said to Martin:

"Three times I came to your friendly door,
Three times my shadow was on your floor.
I was a beggar with bruised feet.
I was the woman you gave to eat.
I was the homeless child on the street."

Watch out! Christ may be closer than you can imagine.

J. Howard Olds, adapted from Leo Tolstoy's Where Love Is, God Is, Faith Breaks,
I Shall Not Rush  

Here is a version of the 23rd Psalm that ought to be mandatory reading each day of Advent, and a unison reading each Advent Sunday.  

The lord is my pace setter . . . I shall not rush
He makes me stop for quiet intervals
He provides me with images of stillness which restore my serenity
He leads me in the way of efficiency through calmness of mind and his guidance is peace
Even though I have a great many things to accomplish each day, I will not fret, for his presence is here
His timelessness, his all importance will keep me in balance
He prepares refreshment and renewal in the midst of my activity by anointing my mind with his oils of tranquility
My cup of joyous energy overflows
Truly harmony and effectiveness shall be the fruits of my hours for I shall walk in the Pace of my Lord and dwell in his house for ever.

A version of Psalm 23 from Japan, as reprinted in Mother Teresa, Life in the Spirit: Reflections, Meditations, Prayers, ed. Kathryn Spink (San Francisco, Harper & Row, 1983), 76-77.

 Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition  

In Monty Python's sketch, "The Spanish Inquisition," a man is being questioned in a way that surprises him and he says, "Mr. Wentworth just told me to come in here and say that there was trouble at the mill, that's all - I didn't expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition." As if on cue, inquisitors burst into the room and one of them says, "NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise...surprise and fear...fear and surprise.... Our two weapons are fear and surprise...and ruthless efficiency.... Our three weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency...and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.... Our Amongst our weapons.... Amongst our weaponry...are such elements as fear, surprise.... I'll come in again." The inquisitors exit the scene to re-enter and begin the speech again.
Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. "If the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into" (Matthew 24:43). The Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.  

Mary Hinkle Shore, The Element of Surprise 


God asks no man whether he will accept life. That is not the choice. You must take it. The only choice is how. 

Henry Ward Beecher 

 Humor: High Risk

 I remember seeing a cartoon depicting a church that had been built in close proximity to an active volcano. In the picture are the church, its sign - "The Church Next to the Active Volcano" - and two men standing in front of the church, one of whom is wearing a clergy shirt and appears to be speaking to the other man. The caption reads, "Of course, there is a high degree of risk being located here, but it lends a great sense of urgency to my preaching!"

Johnny Dean

Someone once asked Wayne Gretsky, the great hockey player, how he managed to become the best goal-scorer in the history of the game. He simply replied, "While everyone else is chasing the puck, I go where the puck is going to be."

Brett Blair,
We've Done Everything Else 

"We have learned to soar through the air like birds, to swim through the seas like fish, to soar through space like comets. Now it is high time we learned to walk the earth as the children of our God." 

William Sloan Coffin 
Redeemed, Redeemed, Redeemed!

 A.J. Gordon was the great Baptist pastor of the Clarendon Church in Boston, Massachusetts. One day he met a young boy in front of the sanctuary carrying a rusty cage in which several birds fluttered nervously. Gordon inquired, "Son, where did you get those birds?" The boy replied, "I trapped them out in the field." "What are you going to do with them?" "I'm going to play with them, and then I guess I'll just feed them to an old cat we have at home." When Gordon offered to buy them, the lad exclaimed, "Mister, you don't want them, they're just little old wild birds and can't sing very well." Gordon replied, "I'll give you $2 for the cage and the birds." "Okay, it's a deal, but you're making a bad bargain." The exchange was made and the boy went away whistling, happy with his shiny coins. Gordon walked around to the back of the church property, opened the door of the small wire coop, and let the struggling creatures soar into the blue.  

The next Sunday he took the empty cage into the pulpit and used it to illustrate his sermon about Christ's coming to seek and to save the lost -- paying for them with His own precious blood. "That boy told me the birds were not songsters," said Gordon, "but when I released them and they winged their way heavenward, it seemed to me they were singing, 'Redeemed, redeemed, redeemed!'" 

Brett Blair, Collected Sermons,  

What Is Time?

 What is time? Who can easily and briefly explain this? Who can comprehend this, even in thought, so as to express it in a word? Yet what do we discuss more familiarly and knowingly in conversation than time? Surely, we understand it when we talk about it, and also understand it when we hear others talk about it. What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I want to explain it to someone who asks me, I do not know.

Augustine, Confessions, Book xi, Chapter 14 

A New Kingdom Will Emerge 

In the Book of Genesis we find the story of Noah. There had been endless days on the ark... days of waiting and hoping. In every direction Noah could see only water. One day, in faith, he released a dove to search for land. The Bible says the dove "found no place to set her foot" and returned. Noah was put on hold. He had to wait. He waited with faith and in hope.

He sent out a dove a second time. It returned with a spring of freshly plucked olive leaf in its beak. Noah could not see the land, but he knew it was there. It began to appear out of the watery waste. The worst was over. As sure as God made little green apples, a new, green world would emerge out of the wreckage of the old...
From Fr. Tony Kadavil's Collection:
1: Unheeded warning: Early Sunday morning, June 30, 1974, a hundred young people were dancing to the soul-rock music at Gulliver’s in Port Chester, on the border between New York and Connecticut. Suddenly the place was filled with flames and smoke. In a few minutes 24 were dead, burnt by fire, suffocated by smoke, and crushed in the exit passage by the escaping youngsters. According to the Mayor of Port Chester, the dancing crowd ignored the repeated and frantic warnings given by the band manager when he noticed the smoke. Today’s second reading tells us about the warnings given by St. Paul, and today’s Gospel gives the warning to be vigilant and prepared given by Jesus.
2: Doomsday paranoia: The Jehovah’s Witnesses frightened gullible followers at least 3 times during the last century with their “end of the world” predictions – in 1914, 1918 and 1974.  It was in 1978 that the media flashed the shocking news of the mass suicide of 914 men and women from the U.S.A. They belonged to a doomsday cult called the Peoples Temple, in Jonestown, Guyana and they committed suicide at the command of their paranoid leader, Rev. Warren (Jim) Jones. In 1988 Edgar Whisenant, a NASA engineer, used his mathematical skills to set a date for the return of Jesus. He wrote a book called, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Take Place in 1988. In the same year Rev. Colin Deal published a book titled Christ Returns By 1988 – 101 Reasons Why. A very popular book in 1989 was 89 Reasons Why the World will End in 1989. It was in 1995 that the landmark apocalyptic thriller novel, Left Behind, first of a series of 16 books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins (Left Behind, Tribulation Force, Nicolae, Soul Harvest, Apollyon, Assassins, The Indwelling, The Mark, Desecration, The Remnant, Armageddon, and Glorious Appearing + 4 new ones) began hitting Christian bookstores. Since then, over 62 million copies of the Left Behind series and its related books have been sold, generating $650 million. In October, 2005 a big-budget film, Left Behind, based on this novel series, was released and shown in all Evangelical Christian parishes. The film Omega Code, released in October 1999, was an independent movie funded by the Trinity Broadcasting Network, the largest Evangelical Christian TV network in the U.S. It was promoted by a team of 2,400 U.S. Evangelical pastors.  The plot involves a portrayal of the rapture, when “born again” and "saved" Christians, both alive and dead, are supposed to fly up in the air to meet Jesus on his Second Coming.  Omega Code was rated in the top 10 grossing movies for October 1999. This is how modern man reacts to the end of the world.  Today’s readings remind us that we should be well prepared and always ready  to meet Jesus at all times, either at the end of our lives or at the end of the world, whichever comes first, without getting panicky.