I suppose I could begin this morning by saying, "Happy New Year!" That may surprise you, but we're following the church year, not the calendar year. So we are beginning a new year in our church liturgies, starting with our time of preparation for the coming of Jesus through his birth and then through his life in this new year. As we celebrate this season of Advent, we discover, I think, that it's a time of hope and a time of joy.
We're anticipating some marvelous things. Yes, there are the end times that we heard about in the Gospel that might seem to some of us something to dread because it is a time of judgment, but that wasn't true of the first disciples. They were looking forward, anxious for Jesus to return, to bring the fullness of his reign into being; they wanted it to happen. They were anticipating this with great joy until gradually, they began to realize it wasn't going to happen in their lifetime or for any foreseeable time in the future that they could be aware of.
First Sunday of Advent
So once more during this season of Advent, we too look forward to that end time and want to be sure that we're not like that householder who never prepared to keep himself safe because he didn't know when the thief would come. We're going to be ready all the time. But then we also celebrate in Advent not just the coming of Jesus at the end of time — of course we're celebrating his coming into human history. It happened more than 2,000 years ago — but we're preparing for a renewal of that spirit of joy, that spirit of peace that seemed to descend certainly on this town of Bethlehem, but on parts of the world at the time when Jesus came into our midst as the Son of Mary.
Finally, we're preparing for another way that Jesus comes into our lives. It happens any day and every day. How? If we're alert, we'll be able to discover Jesus in those that he himself spoke about, "When I was hungry you gave me something to eat. When I was thirsty you gave me something to drink. When I was naked, you clothed me. When I was in prison, you visited me." Of course, Jesus comes into our lives every day in those we meet within our own families, within our community, within our parish family. We come to know Jesus in one another; we meet him in each other.
Jesus also comes to us in this Word of God. If we listen alertly every week, we will discover that we come to know Jesus more deeply and learn how we need to change our lives so that we are ready for his coming whenever it happens. Any day, any time, any moment we can be meeting Jesus if we're alert, if we're ready. This morning I thought about how Jesus comes to us in the Word of God, especially in that first lesson today.
It might be very important for us because we live at a time when we're aware of so much violence in our world. It's happening within our country all the time, but it's happening in the larger world, too. If you take a moment to think about what is happening in the Middle East: Millions of people are being driven out of their homes, out of their lands. The Christian community in the Middle East, out of the countries of Iraq and Syria, is practically disappearing because people are fleeing the violence, the war, the suffering.
In God's Word today, if we hear it carefully, Jesus is showing us how we transform that violence. We don't do it by responding with violence. We don't try to become the most powerful killing machine in human history and make our nation the nation with the most weapons and the most capability to wage war. That's not what Isaiah told the people when they were being threatened with that invasion from the north in the very place where the Holy Land is, in the Middle East. They were afraid of this invasion; they were ready to arm.
But what does Isaiah tell them? "The mountain of Yahweh's house shall be set over the highest mountains, shall tower over the hills." He's talking about what we call Mount Zion. Here's what will happen, "All the nations shall stream to it." We become one human family again. So he invites the people, "Come, let us go to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that God may teach us God's ways and we may go in God's paths."
Here's what the teaching is, "God will rule over the nations and settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks," (getting rid of the weapons of war and turning them into instruments to provide life and peace). "Nation will not raise sword against nation. They will train for war no more. Oh nation of Jacob, come, let us go in the light of the Lord!" That's a plea to us today — let us go in the light of the Lord, the light of Jesus.
We celebrated just last Sunday the Feast of Christ the King when we honor Jesus, not as a king who is a warrior, but as a king who was a lover, a king who, on the cross, poured forth his love on those enemies who were killing him. This is the most radical teaching of Jesus and it's being proclaimed to us today. It's God's Word; it's God coming into our midst telling us how we can resolve the problems of violence and killing and hatred.
You never overcome hatred with hate; you never overcome violence with violence; you never overcome killing with killing; it's only through love. That's the way Jesus teaches us. That was the message of Isaiah and it's the same message today. Perhaps you've heard in the news in the last couple of days a reminder about that terrible thing that took place in the summer of 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. You remember when the people at a small church had gathered together for an evening of Bible study and Dylann Roof comes into their midst, an outsider, but they welcomed him.
He spent a whole hour with them reflecting on the Scriptures, then he pulled out a gun and killed nine people in cold blood. This week in the news it's coming up again because the courts have decided that he must be subject to the death penalty. So once more when he's convicted we will kill in order to stop killing. Is that the way of Jesus? I think not. Remember the example of those people of that church when he appeared in court and they had their opportunity to speak to him, one by one they got up and forgave him. They forgave him! They were reaching out in love to him. They do not want him to be killed to try to make up for their killings. They're trying to practice the way of Jesus.
Probably he'll end up with the death penalty and be put to death. What will we have achieved? Certainly not peace and love, certainly not following the way of Jesus. So in this moment of time when we begin the celebration of Advent and we think about the ways that Jesus comes into our lives, I hope that we will prepare in a quiet, prayerful way for the celebration of Christmas. It isn't just a feast about consumption and buying — all the buying and selling that was going on this past week. That's not Christmas.
It's Jesus coming into our midst and we have to keep reminding ourselves of that. But we also remind ourselves that yes; we're looking forward to the final coming of Jesus when all of our world will be transformed into the reign of God. We also look for the coming of Jesus into our lives each day, perhaps in this word of Scripture today, and let that word change us so that we will always be ready whenever Jesus comes, then we will recognize him, welcome him, and be filled with his life and love and joy forever.
[Homily given at St. Philomena, Detroit, Mich. The transcripts of Bishop Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]