Fr. Paul's Homily
Recently I had a discussion with a deer hunter. It was the day of his elderly mother-in-law’s burial and after the ceremony was over, and we were talking, I said, “I understand that you will be sitting in a deer stand early tomorrow morning?” A small smile appeared on his face and he said, “You are correct, Father. I know it is going to be cold, but I know how to dress warmly so I will be fine. I just love being out in nature as it awakes in the morning. Just seeing nature come alive, as the sun comes up and you see the movement of all the animals. If I happen to get a good shot at a deer, well, that is a bonus.”
I had to smile for he communicated a different image of a deer hunter than the one you might see on the Outdoor channel on TV. For this hunting was a great reason to just be out in God’s creation and to breath it all in. to be in a deer stand, silently waiting, not just for a deer, but waiting for all the blessings of experiencing dawn in the forest.
Today our Gospel speaks of “Watching” and “Being Alert.” Let’s take a few minutes with this.
Although the season of Advent is seen as a preparation for Christmas, in the eyes of the Church, it is also a preparation for Christ’s final coming at the end of all time. We do not think about this much, except for a few who seem to think about it all the time. Yet, our faith clearly professes that Christ will come again at the end of all time and he will begin the full reign of his Kingdom.
For the first century, the return of Jesus Christ was seen as being imminent, anytime. St. Paul believed, especially in his early writings, the he would return during his lifetime. The Gospel of St. Mark from which we read this morning, was written about 8 years after St. Paul’s martyrdom, but St. Mark also carries a sense that the return would be soon. But the return of Jesus was taking longer than anticipated.
When the return of the Master is delayed, misbehavior becomes more possible. We all know the situation when the teacher leaves the classroom with the strict directive, “There should be no talking while I am gone.” And there isn’t any talking…for about one minute!! Then the comments start, conversations develop, conflicts happen and when the teacher walks back in…well, it isn’t pretty!!
Jesus, in the Gospel, is encouraging people to stay faithful, despite the length of absence, by being alert and staying awake for, “You do not know the hour when the master of the house is coming.”
The deer hunter in the tree stand had to be awake very early and alert to see the awaking of the dawn. What does it mean to be alert and awake today?
First, we must be alert to the world around us and the cry for help.
In a high school graduation address, the late Illinois Senator Paul Simon told the students about a trip he and his brother took on some country roads years. “It was a beautiful cool evening,” Simon mentioned, “so we turned off the car air conditioner, rolled down the windows and listened to the sounds of nature all around us. At one point, as we rounded a curve, we both thought we heard someone yelling, ‘Help!’ We instantly turned our car around, pulled over and began looking along the side of the road.”
“In less than a minute we discovered a car upside down in a ditch, the driver pinned inside. My brother immediately drove off to a neighboring farm to call for an ambulance while I stayed with the driver. I eventually asked, ‘When did this happen?’ ‘Early this morning,’ he replied, ‘on my way to work. Every time I heard a car go by I yelled for help. You’re the first one to stop.’”
The senator made an obvious connection for the graduates. “We were the only ones to stop because we were the only ones deliberately listening to the sounds.” Out of the hundreds of people who passed down that road that day, they alone were deliberately alert to what was happening around them.
The sounds. What are the sounds that Jesus calls us to hear, and to respond to? What are the sounds that we might miss because the noise of the commercials and the isolation of our conveniences block these sounds out? Is it Ebola and the need for medical care in West Africa? Is it the cry of children who are afraid that their Mom or Dad will never come home because of immigration law? Is it the mentally ill who struggle to just keep going? What is the sound that if we are not listening with our hearts, we will not hear?
Staying “Alert” and “Awake” requires that we not be tempted into drowsiness because of the length of time the Master is gone. It is easy to stay alert when it is only short time. It is very challenging to stay faithful to God when the length of time is long. We see this in our first reading from Isaiah today. In this reading, the Jewish people have been allowed to return from their exile in Babylon (present day Iraq). But when the return they discover that the Temple and much of the city as been destroyed. The people are discouraged and they wonder if it is worth rebuilding the Temple and their faith in God?
The Prophet calls forth God to come down in his might power: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as they had not heard of from of old.” The Prophet wants God to come down in power and might, giving clear evidence that he is their God and he will make all things right, for such power has not been seen since Moses, 700 years earlier!
Have you ever grown tired waiting? Perhaps you try to live a good, faithful life, waiting for God to make the dramatic entrance into your life? But no drama occurs. You care for a loved one with a disease, and no healing occurs. You go to church, you pray daily…but in your weak moments you wonder if it makes a difference? Growing tired is part of life. And sometimes we want to give up.
Finally, we stay Alert and Awake by rebuilding the relationships in our lives. For the Jews of the Old Testament, the rebuilding of the Temple had to be preceded by the rebuilding their relationship with God. The people of Israel had to once again, become the People of God. They were being asked to reclaim their blessed relationship as the “Chosen People of God.” The relationship had to come first.
Jesus’ plan to change the world was rooted in a plan to change how we related to one another. This Galilean carpenter said that our relationships dictate the world in which we live. In other words, relationships create the world around us. Trust, integrity, honesty, genuine concern for another…all these are powerful elements of God relationships.
How might this speak to us today? Is there an old relationship that needs some attention, or might we just need to infuse the qualities of honesty, trust and integrity into our present relationships? For most of us, we all have some work to do in this area.
So, on this the First Sunday of Advent, when Black Friday has been the hot topic for days, let’s be counter-cultural!! Let us be Alive, Alert, Awake!! Let us strive to make this season special by hearing the calls for help around us; by not being discouraged when the waiting for God gets long; and by working on our relationships in the example of Jesus himself! Happy Advent!