First Sunday of Advent – November 29, 2020
10th Anniversary of Establishment of Nativity of Our Lord Parish, Duryea
As we begin a new Church year today on this First Sunday of Advent – as we anticipate the end of the year 2020 in one month’s time – the plea of the prophet Isaiah in our first scripture reading seems to capture our sentiments rather well. “Oh, that you, O God, would rend the heavens and come down” with your powerful presence to fix our world which has gone awry.
I know that not a few of us have prayed over the past nine months for God’s decisive intervention into our world to heal it of the global pandemic that enveloped our lives: a pandemic that has wounded lives – that has been the source of grief and loss – that has led to confusion and fear – and that has even sewn seeds of division and hatred within our great land. The time seems right for us to embrace a new beginning, doesn’t it?
It’s well, then, that before we put the year 2020 behind us, we embrace a new Church year: a reality that establishes for us the necessary foundation for how we best live our lives with hope. Indeed, that hope – rooted in faith – is a sure and certain promise – despite the turbulence that surrounds us and the challenges of a broken world that can deprive us of peace.
In so many respects, Advent – the beginning of the Christian year – begins at the end with its focus on the promised return of Christ at the end of time. In today’s brief Gospel parable of the master’s return, Jesus articulates the Advent themes of waiting, watchfulness and readiness. He calls us to realize our responsibilities in the present as we dare to look forward to the promise of the future.
Like the world that we’ve all experienced during these many months of upheaval and pain, Advent acknowledges for us the precariousness of life and limits of time and our experience of it. While confronting us with the reality that our lives are finite and fragile, these Sundays of Advent also assure us of the abiding presence of God in the midst of the struggles and challenges we face.
Some of you might recall an evening in March during a different liturgical season – Lent, a few days before Holy Week was to begin – when Pope Francis stood alone in an empty, rain-slicked Saint Peter’s Square during the height of the coronavirus for a time of blessing and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.
During that time of prayer, the Holy Father proclaimed the gospel passage, which found the disciples in a boat with Jesus – who was asleep – as they feared for their lives in the midst of a dreadful storm that had enveloped them. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” they shouted. Jesus awoke, called the winds and the sea and then said to his disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
In reflecting upon the Word of God during that evocative moment of prayer, Pope Francis offered these thoughts regarding Jesus’ question to his disciples. “Lord, you are calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. … You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing; … a time to choose what matters and what passes away. … Faith begins when we realize we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient.” The Holy Father then went on to say, “Let us invite Jesus into our lives. … With him on board, there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God, life never dies.”
And so, when Jesus challenges us in the Gospel, “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come,” he’s not so much reminding us to be attentive to the end times. Rather, he’s calling us to a deeper sense of authentic discipleship. He’s calling us to embrace the values of selfless love and service as the surest means to our salvation. And he’s reminding us that for all of our capacity to control our world and our lives, our surest posture is that of trust – trust in the abiding power, presence and mercy of God.
Brothers and sisters, that sense of trust has carried you through so much of your lives – particularly as you reflect you’re your place in this blessed parish community. Ten years ago as a new community of faith that we now know as Nativity of Our Lord Parish began to take shape, many of you undoubtedly faced that moment with a bit of sadness and uncertainty. Nonetheless, you embraced the moment that God had given to you with the same depth of faith that sustained your parents and grandparents and so many who have gone before us.
May the anniversary of the founding of Nativity of Our Lord Parish be an opportunity for all of us to reflect on those things that matter most in life. In the midst of an uncertain world, the gifts of faith, hope and love – gifts rooted in the grace of God – are the true treasures of life worth the investment of our lives. May we continue to be “watchful” and “alert” to God’s presence among us and so find our lasting peace.