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First Sunday of Advent - November 27, 2016


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          The invitation of Advent is to remember our future so that it can transform our present.  The first Sunday of Advent always looks to history’s end.  For Christians that’s not the stuff of scary movies but the anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ, which we believe will bring all of creation to its fulfillment.  The first Christians thought they were on the threshold of that day and made plans accordingly.  That’s one idea behind Paul telling the Romans, “Our salvation is near.” In today’s Gospel Jesus says, “Stay awake! At an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” But here we are some 2000 years later, and Jesus’ Second Coming has yet to happen. 


          That does not mean that we ignore Jesus’ message, but that we remember where we are going, and let that goal motivate us to BE PREPARED.  Jesus tells us that this time of Advent is a time to prepare not only to celebrate his birth and invite him anew into our hearts but also to prepare ourselves for the reality of spending eternity with him.  Isaiah and Paul give us some important clues about just how to prepare ourselves.


          The Israelites were all too aware of their history of losing wars and living in exile.  Isaiah tries to help them restore their hope by telling them to: “Climb the Lord’s mountain to the house of the God of Jacob, where God will teach them to walk in his paths.”  And when they walk in the light of the Lord, they will enjoy a time of peace, where there  will be no more war, and swords will be turned into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks – instruments the bring food to feed all people rather than instruments of death and destruction.


          In the second reading, Paul is even more specific in his letter to the Romans about what it means to walk in the light of the Lord.  “Throw off works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”  He lists works of darkness – orgies, drunkenness, promiscuity, lust, rivalry and jealousy.  So here is the first concrete goal of Advent; let us look into our hearts and ask the Lord to shine his merciful forgiveness on our works of darkness and give us the grace to change our darkness into light.  Some of those sins are personal that can destroy families and our sense of self-worth.  The last two are sins that can destroy our community.  Rivalry and jealousy are the root of all gossip and source of all division.  Every time we judge and criticize someone, we are contributing to breaking down the Body of Christ.  Why do we receive the Eucharist – to become more and more like Christ whom we receive.  Sometimes the Blessed Sacrament is just barely in our body when we are bashing somebody.  Advent gives us a time to look into our hearts and ask for the grace to allow Jesus to help us see what needs cleaning, what rooms in our heart remain in darkness.


          Advent is also a time to remember our future by preparing to celebrate Jesus’ birth.  For God to become one of us was an act of pure love and humility.  Our God who created the Universe became human in the person of Jesus for an ultimate purpose with many acts foreshadowing that ultimate purpose – to die for our sins on a cross and rise from the dead so that our sins can be forgiven and that we can share eternal life with him.  He came to bring God’s mercy to touch our misery.  John 4 with the Samaritan woman at the well brings that message home so clearly.  She who yearned for life-giving love, but only knew failure, found that love in one gaze in the eyes of Jesus.  That one gaze of love broke down layers of shame and guilt.  Jesus became one of us to bring the love of God in its fullness into our hearts. 


          Be prepared.  For 20 years Amalia and Conchita have selflessly dedicated their lives to prepare all in their care to know Jesus’ love and to renew their lives.  They have led many Evangelization Retreats which for so many provides the most powerful encounter they had ever had with the unconditional love of God through the Spirit, and encounter with the love of Christ.  They work tirelessly to bring other retreats throughout the year, to make our celebrations of Holy Week moving and meaningful, our celebration of our Lady of Guadalupe wonderful and our Posadas complete with meaningful themes.  My faith is stronger because of them.  When Amalia told me that she had discerned returning to her congregation, it was as if she stuck a dagger through my heart in one sense, in that I knew I was going to miss a dear friend who taught me so much in 7 years together.  I was happy for her to have come to a decision that brought her peace and joy.  I also feel a sense of loss for Conchita too.  They have been a wonderful team to work with.  A few things I will never forget that Amalia taught me: When blessing meals – always ask the Lord to give me a hunger for him.  After receiving the Eucharist – Thank the Lord for giving his life for me and ask him for the strength to give my life more and more to him and selflessly to his flock.  Amalia, thank you for your many years of service here at St. James and in our Diocese.  Thank you for leading so many souls to Christ.  Maricela said this about Sarah in her interview for the youth minister position that her faith seemed so real and her relationship with Christ shone through, and that relationship can’t be taught by someone who doesn’t have it.  Your relationship with Christ shines through all you do and are.  It breaks my heart that you won’t be with us physically much longer; but you will always be a part of our hearts!