Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sunday word, 23 Dec 2007

Advent Sunday4 A (23 Dec 2007) Is 7. 10-14; Ps 24; Rm 1. 1-7; Mt 1. 18-24
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Made From Concentrate

“God bless your Advent! May it continue to unfold onto a bright and holy Christmas and a Happy New Year.” I have been signing Christmas cards and other correspondence with that greeting because Advent is a concentrated three-weeks-plus which flows into Christmas time and beyond. Advent is a concentrated season which commingles the sources of our identity and life as Christians. St. Paul expressed these sources in a compact sentence in greeting the Roman church he wrote before he arrived there. Paul introduced himself, as we heard, as set apart for the gospel of God...about his Son, descended from David according to the flesh, but established as Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness through resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Advent helps us prepare ourselves together for Jesus’ two advents. All of us are to be like expectant mothers, full of the life of our Messiah and eager to bear his life into our world while we expect him, our creator, redeemer and judge, to return to us--his next advent. Being and living in the world eagerly bearing our Messiah gives real sweetness to our annual celebration of his birth and life in the Holy Land--his first advent.

This final Advent Sunday focuses us more sharply on Jesus’ first advent. Its focus helps us remember that the prophets pointed to Jesus; that Prophet Isaiah prepared us to expect the Messiah’s marvelous birth not a marvelous life; and Gabriel reminded Joseph that the child Jesus he would raise as his son would save his people from their sins.

Even more marvelous, this savior would be God-with-us. Emmanuel, God-with-us, is the most concentrated, the most intense, the most real presence. God-with-us is also the most abiding presence we have. Not only did Matthew want us to hear that at the outset of his gospel: Jesus’ birth fulfilled the prophet’s words: they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with Us”; Matthew wanted us to hear it at the close of his gospel. That closing bookend is worth a brief look. No doubt you’ll recognize Matthew’s closing verses. After Jesus died and rose he joined his disciples on the mountain in Galilee to which Jesus had ordered them. They worshiped him there...then Jesus said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all peoples, baptizing them [and] teaching them to observe all I have commanded you. Behold, I am with you always....”/1/.

From the First Gospel’s opening to its close; from Joseph’s dreams to the Trinity’s dream-come-true; from Jesus' manger and on our mission, Jesus remains Emmanuel, God-with-us. How easy to hasten to the manger and worship the infant son of so marvelous a birth and remain there! Surely, we ought to go there to remind ourselves not only of our Messiah’s beginnings but of our Christian beginnings. We ought to contemplate Joseph who awoke--advent is all about waking up and being alert--and who did as the Lord commanded him. What did Joseph do? He embraced a wife, and more, he embraced a life he would never have imagined for himself. He welcomed, certainly against his own better judgment, what God dreamed and desired for him.

This final Advent Sunday invites us to prepare to visit the manger--but only to visit. Shepherds returned praising God after they visited. We can do no better. We are more properly Galilee mountain disciples with a mission, than Bethlehem bound. St. Francis of Assisi was aware of that and the concentrated nature of advent when he made the first Christmas crèche. Francis was well aware the wood of the manger did not disappear from Jesus’ life. At the appointed time it reappeared as the wood of the cross. We continue to live in the bright shadow of his cross and resurrection; as we do we enjoy access to his abiding presence.

His abiding presence, born anew, invites us to rediscover ourselves in each new thing he gives. New birth is our baptism; new power allows us to proclaim the gospel of Jesus with our lives; new patience allows us to continue to proclaim it and live it; new hope deepens our fidelity as apostles of Jesus' gospel; and new majesty is each one's share in the prophetic, priestly and royal roles of Jesus, who is with us always.

This brings me full circle to my greeting this year: “God bless your Advent! May it continue to unfold onto a bright and holy Christmas and a Happy New Year.” As we wrap the last gifts, hang the last ornaments and mail the last card, we do well to pause each day and ponder. In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus converse with him. Then consider in your voice: how much am I like Isaiah and announce the Lord’s promise? How much am I like St. Paul and glory in my unique relationship with Messiah Jesus, who sends me to continue his mission? How much am I like St. Joseph, seeking what the Lord desires of me, waking up to it and acting on it? Those questions and people unfold the concentrated quality of Advent. Close by slowly saying the Lord’s Prayer, which lead us to live the concentrated life of Advent’s hope.
/1/ Matthew 28.16-20.
Wiki-image of advent wreath is in the public domain. Wiki-image of St. Joseph statue used under the terms of the GFDL.

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