We're all aware, I think, that as we begin this season of Advent, we are preparing in a special way for the coming of Jesus. In fact, there are three comings of Jesus that are celebrated during this period of preparation for Christmas. First, and the most important, is what we just heard about in the Gospel -- the final coming of Jesus at the end of time when Jesus will bring in the fullness, the reign of God, the time of peace and fullness of life and joy for all creatures of all time.
First Sunday of Advent
But then also, we're preparing in a more immediate way, although we don't know because we don't know when that final moment is going to come. It could be today or tomorrow, but most likely not; who knows? Anyway, we are preparing for the Feast of Christmas when we celebrate and remember the coming of the Son of God into our midst as part of our human family. Finally, and maybe most important, we should be preparing during these weeks, and then hope that we'll continue throughout our life for those comings of Jesus that happen on an every day basis through the Word of God, through events in our lives, Jesus is present. Often we don't recognize it.
Now during these four weeks of Advent, we're going to try to be more alert. In fact, that's the advice that Luke gives in the Gospel when he, like the other early Christians, was looking forward to the imminent coming of Jesus. They thought it was going to happen almost right away. Luke says, "Be alert. Be ready so that when Jesus comes again you'll be there to welcome him and to rejoice with his final coming in the fullness of the reign of God."
But that same message of Luke to "be alert," we can use for our preparations for the other comings of Jesus, especially for those comings when Jesus enters into our every day life. There's a part of the Eucharistic prayer where we say, "Blessed indeed is your Son, Jesus, present in our midst when we gather in his name and when as once for his disciples, and now for us he opens the Scriptures and breaks the bread." That's a reminder to us that Jesus becomes present to us in our every day life, especially when we are gathered in his name.
Remember he said, "Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst." This morning we should be more alert. Jesus is present with us. We're gathered in his name. Just as he did for his disciples, so now for us he's helping us to open these Scriptures and then to break the bread and to share communion in his life. If we do that with alertness, every time we celebrate the Eucharist, every Sunday at least, we will be preparing for that final coming of Jesus, but also for that moment when Jesus comes to us in our present circumstances.
That maybe is the most important thing to prepare for on a regular basis. To me it seems like we have never really heard the first lesson today from Jeremiah, "The days are becoming when I shall fulfill the promise that I made in favor of Israel and Judah. In those days and at that time, I will cause to sprout the shoot of righteousness, of goodness, of love from David's line. He will practice justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will experience God's saving love. Jerusalem will live in safety. He will be called God, our Righteousness, this one who is coming."
Jeremiah was picturing the house of David as a beautiful, magnificent tree that had been chopped down with only a stump left, but then from that stump a sprout begins to grow. That sprout, the sprout of righteousness from David's line -- that one is Jesus, God with us. That happened; 600 years after Jeremiah said those words, Jesus came into our human family -- that sprout from the stump of Jesse, the father of David.
But have we listened? Jeremiah was speaking those words at a time when, for the third time in a matter of a few years -- 597 BC, 587 BC, 582 BC -- the Chosen People had been invaded, their land destroyed and finding their temple totally destroyed, and they were driven into exile. It seemed like a time of total hopelessness. That's when Jeremiah said those words that gave them hope. Then it happened. That's been 2,000 years now.
Isn't it tragic that the same thing that was happening in the time of Jeremiah 600 years before Christ is happening in that very same area of the world today? The violence that's going on in the Middle East, people being driven in the millions from their homes, 200,000 people killed in the one civil war in Syria. But that's spreading everywhere in that area. Yet, that sprout from the line of David has been in our midst all this time and we live in a world, not only where in the Middle East there's so much violence, but here in our own country the killings that go on.
We've been aware this past week of the young man in Chicago shot by a police officer 16 times, even as he's lying on the ground dying. Just a couple of days ago somebody tried to prove the value of human life. A person goes into a Planned Parenthood clinic and kills three people in order to say, "I'm against killing." There's something just totally missing in this. What it is, is the message of Jesus, the real, deep, profound message of Jesus.
He did come 2,000 years ago, but we haven't really listened down through those years, even until today, to his message. What did St. Paul tell those first Christians when he was talking about the return of Jesus? He encouraged them, "Increase more and more your love for each other and for all people as God increases our love for you. May God strengthen you internally to be holy before God on that day that Jesus will come. We ask you brothers and sisters in the name of Jesus, we urge you to live in a way that pleases God, just as you have learned from us."
Again, that message of Paul urges most of all to love one another. That's the message of Jesus at the Last Supper. He told his disciples, "My one command is that you love one another just as I have loved you and no greater love than this: to give your life for those you love." That's what Jesus did for us; he showed us the way. It's the only way to fullness of peace and joy in the world -- the way of love.
Perhaps during this season of Advent, each of us will try more and more to spend some time each day in the presence of Jesus trying to listen to his Word, follow the daily Scriptures. Or especially on Sunday, come prepared to hear what Jesus says, to let it change your mind and your heart and your way of acting. All of us need to do this. That's how we prepare to celebrate with joy Christmas Day when we remember the day of his birth.
We will be able to celebrate that day with great joy if every day during Advent we've been listening to Jesus, present in our midst, when he breaks open the Word and shares with us his body and blood in communion. When we celebrate Advent in this way, in a spirit of expectant love and love that we develop reaching out to our brothers and sisters near and far, when we follow this way of Jesus then we will find that the celebration of Christmas will be a day of great joy because we will remember at that moment how important the message of Jesus has been in our lives and will be in the coming years.
Perhaps after this Advent, that sprout from the stump of Jesse -- Jesus -- will be much more fully alive within each one of us and we will be able to go out and share the message of God's love, joy, and goodness to all our brothers and sisters. In some small way, at least, we will be closer to the end of violence and to true peace in our lives, our neighborhood, and in our world.
[Homily given at St. Philomena Parish, Detroit. 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.]