Fr. Paul's Homily
Most of us know the names of Andrew Luck and Matt Hasselbeck. For three seasons, Andrew has been the starting quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts, and Matt Hasselbeck has been the backup quarterback. For the first 3 seasons, Andrew Luck has been remarkably resilient, even with his somewhat reckless style of play, resulting in very few snaps for Matt Hasselbeck in a game.
But this all changed this year, with Andrew twice removed from playing because of injuries, Matt has stepped in, leading the Colts to victory three times this season. He is undefeated this year as the starting quarterback. It is amazing!!
But we should not be surprised. Matt Hasselbeck is a professional who has been in the league for many years as a starting quarterback. He knows that the role of the backup is to be always ready. So no doubt, he studied the playbook as much as Andrew Luck did; he practiced, ran mile after mile, lifted weights, worked with the receivers. He did all this in anticipation of what was to come.
Advent is also living in anticipation of what is to come. Our readings today speak of this promise and calls us to be ready. Let’s explore these readings in light of the Advent Season.
Our first Sunday of Advent always combines the themes of the first coming of the Son of God at Christmas, and the second coming of the Son of God at the end of all time. Our reading from Jeremiah, the prophet, was written six centuries before Jesus, during a very painful time in Jewish history. Into this pain, Jeremiah speaks words of hope, saying, “I (God) will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah…I will raise up for David a just shoot; he shall do what is right and just in the land.” Jeremiah is using the image that his predecessor, Isaiah, also used: Israel is like a tree that has been cut down and all that remains is a stump that appears dead. But it is not dead, for a new ‘shoot’ shall sprout and bring about righteousness and justice. As Christians, we can see how Jesus Christ, of the lineage of David, was that new shoot that brought for righteousness and justice.
Think about this image: a dead stump that produces the life-giving shoot. Has it ever happened to you that something (or someone) who appeared to be spiritual dead, gave forth a ‘shoot’ of new life? Perhaps it was a cousin who never appeared to have any religiosity, but proved to be a very kind and faith-filled person in the end. Or, perhaps it was within ourselves, when we thought God was only a concept and religious was only obligation and duty. Then something happens; a retreat moves our heart; a birth or a death startles us from our hard-heartedness. Maybe we thought we were dead inside, but the redeemer moved us to new life. Old stumps can produce new fruit, and tired, old hearts can be renewed!
The gospel uses the apocalyptic literature that was common in Jesus day. While each of the gospels have an element of the apocalyptic style, we see it most strongly in the prophet Daniel of the Old Testament at The Book of Revelation in the New Testament. Apocalyptic style expresses the idea that rebirth occurs in crisis. Luke wrote his Gospel during a time of particular turbulence for Israel and the early church. So much was going wrong with persecution and division in the early church, so it was easy for people to get discouraged. While the apocalyptic literature is often frightening with images of terrible natural disasters, it is actually meant to give hope to the Christian.
There is a story of a group of seminarians who would play basketball at a local public school. Sometimes, the janitor would sit in the gym reading his Bible, waiting for the seminarians to finish playing. One of the seminarians asked, “What are you reading?” The janitor responded, “Book of Revelation.” Knowing it was one of the hardest books in the Bible to understand, the seminarian said, “Do you understand it?” “Oh yes”, the janitor responded. Deciding to push the question, the seminarian asked, “Well, what does it mean?” The man answered, “It means that Jesus wins!”
Jesus wins! This is what it truly means. In the midst of suffering, death, tragedies, Jesus Christ is still victor and he will come in glory and power at the end of time. This is the message of the apocalyptic stories in the Bible.
What do we do to be ready for the Lord? St. Paul says, “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all…at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.” So how do we await his coming? We do what Matt Hasselbeck did. We practice as the starting quarterback would. We love one another; we listen to those who need us; we give up our anger and prejudices so that we can be brothers and sisters in Christ; we speak the Truth with great Love. We practice, we practice, we practice. We stay in shape spiritually.
What should we do when the Lord returns? In an apocalyptic situation, with the world appearing to come apart, its foundations shaken, most people would “duck and cover.” Yet, says Luke, this is precisely the time for people to show courage and faith. “Stand erect and raise your heads!”
Stand up! This is the moment we have been preparing far. Turmoil and struggle should not deter us from seeing the Risen Lord who comes to us time and time again.
Have you even noticed that when a starting quarterback gets injured, you won’t see the backup quarterback, cowering on the far end of the bench, hoping the coach does not see him. No! The backup quarterback is ready, and he enters the game with his head held, no matter how difficult the challenge might be.
So, my friends, we are being called to be ready: to practice love, to practice listening, to practice care for the poor, to practice inclusive care for all brothers and sisters. And in doing this, we are being vigilant for the Lord and we will be ready when he returns, whether at the end of time or at our individual deaths. Then, we are called to lift our heads up high and welcome the Son of Man, the Son of God, into our midst!
Come, Lord Jesus, Come!!