By Msgr. Joseph P. Calise
How many times have you heard, “I can’t wait for this year to end!”? It’s an understandable lament; 2020 has been a difficult year in many ways. We have had to deal with a monstrous pandemic, political chaos, violence in the streets, prejudice on many fronts and moral and economic upheaval. Although the hope that these concerns will vanish within days might be naïve, at least the hope that things can get better is still alive.
The changing of the year has always been exciting. Watching the ball drop in Times Square while considering that in Europe it happened hours ago and California still has three more hours to wait has fueled the philosophical musings for decades. The hope of a new year filled with promise has been the inspiration of resolutions since humankind realized that if I sincerely want a better world it has to begin with me.
With today’s celebration of the First Sunday of Advent, we begin a New Year in the church calendar. In these weeks ahead we will be challenged to hear the full message of Advent. Reflecting on today’s Gospel passage in 2014, I wrote, “The cry of Jesus in today’s Gospel is, “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” We do not know when the time will come but we do know that it will come. As we begin Advent today, we remember the events of Bethlehem over two millennia ago. However, we remember those events because the Baby in the crib grew up, revealed Himself and in today’s Gospel reminds us that He will return. But, we do not know when. Today is not only the beginning of our preparation for the Christmas season but also a time of being awake, aware and alert. The word “advent” comes from the Latin, adventus, which is a translation of the Greek word, parousia, which is a reference to the second coming but also brings to mind the waiting of the Jews for the Messiah in the Old Testament.
Although Charles Dickens’ classic is called “A Christmas Carol,” I think it could just as easily be “An Advent Carol.” It tells the story, of course, of Ebenezer Scrooge and his encounter with the spirits of Christmas, past, present and yet to come. In those spirits we find an Advent message. We remember Advent Past, the longing of the world for the Messiah, the Promised One of the Old Testament.
Advent Present keeps us mindful of Christ present in His Church through His people and uniquely in the Eucharist. He is here now. We need to remain watchful for His appearance, whether he shows Himself as a lonely neighbor or a hungry stranger. And Advent Yet To Come is the day when He returns to bring all things to Himself. And for that day, we must stay awake, keeping ourselves spiritually ready. I think the words have a special meaning this year.
If I want 2021 to be a better year, it will not happen if I bring more anger, fear, hatred and violence. In lamenting the sins of his people, Isaiah tells the Lord, “If only you would meet us doing right.” If only at the coming of the Messiah, he could encounter His people following His law. Paul writes to the Corinthians that, “He (Christ) will keep you firm to the end” as “you wait for the revelation of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” In simpler words, having come to believe in Jesus and dedicate themselves to Him, the Corinthians could be confident that as long as they stay close to His teachings, he will sustain them as they wait for the Resurrection. The desire to meet Him while doing right depends on our choice to stay awake and alert to His presence among us now. We make resolutions as one year ends to evidence our willingness to be part of the good we hope to see in the coming year.
As this new liturgical year begins, we are challenged to look back and see how we reflected the love of Christ this past year and then to open our hearts to the grace to imitate Him more closely today and every tomorrow. If everyone made the same resolution, what a wonderful world this would be.
Readings for the First Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 63: 16B-17, 19B; 64:2-7
Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Msgr. Calise is the pastor of Transfiguration-St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, Maspeth.