HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT (C) 2015-16 (Nov. 29)
As we announced, today is the beginning of a new church year and each year we select one of the Gospels to concentrate on in out weekly readings. This year it is the Gospel of Luke. Because it is a cycle of three years, we occasionally switch to the Gospel of John during each of the years, but predominately the readings will be from Luke.
Before we delve into today’s readings which come from the middle of Luke, not the beginning, I want to explain to you why there are four Gospels and why they are each a little different, and sometimes quite different.
Suppose I took four of you from this congregation and gave you an assignment. I choose four people who were alive when John F. Kennedy was president and I ask you to write a 3000-word biography of Kennedy, doing very little research but just from the things you remember, things that you may have read about or things you had been told.
Someone with a strong military background might want to show how Kennedy was a war hero and how that affected his decisions as President as in the Cuban missile crisis, for example. One woman might be enthralled by the idealism of the period – the Camelot years – and so does a portrait of Kennedy and his wife and family, showing Kennedy as a great family man who came from a great and noble lineage. A third person was disturbed by rumors of Kennedy’s assignations that were carefully hidden from the public and so his biography goes into the dalliances that Kennedy carried on. A fourth was intrigued by Kennedy in relation to the other presidents preceding and following him and so did more of a sociological study of how Kennedy’s administration changed what went before and predicted what went after.
The four books that we end up with would all tell the same story – the facts would be much the same. He came from a politically important family, he was a war hero, he was the first Catholic president, he was a wonderful speaker who had a way with words, he helped the country prosper during his regime, he was a popular president, he was assassinated in Texas. All those facts would be in each book, but the purpose of each book, the reason it was written would be different. Because it was from memory, the events might not have the same chronological order, the stories that significantly affected the author’s point of view might be enlarged or might disappear. But each of the stories holds the main facts and uncovers essential truths.
This might help to explain why we have four Gospels – actually there were many more – but four were chosen to be the most accurate for the needs of the early church.
Luke’s version of the Gospel has all the main points of Matthew and Mark but includes a number of stories that do not appear in Matthew or Mark. That is because Luke had a different purpose. He was writing for a Gentile community and he was concerned with convincing that non-Jewish audience of the truth of Jesus. We will see numerous referencing to witnesses of the Gospel which give his story validity. Luke also wants to shift blame for Jesus’ death to the Jews because he is writing to Romans and doesn’t want to alienate them. In Luke, Pilate says three times that Jesus is innocent, for example, compared to once in the other accounts.
Luke says that his purpose is to give evidence through witnesses so that all who read him will know “the certainty of those things.” But he does this with the perspective of a non-Jew. Often the witnessing will occur in twos in Luke. For example, Jesus birth and John’s birth are put together. Both Mary and Elizabeth have revelations that they witness to. Both Simeon and Anna in the Temple give witness to the importance of Jesus. Watch for these.
I will say more about the Gospel of Luke during the coming weeks, but we need to take a few moments now to talk about Advent, a time when we wait for the birth of Jesus in memory and align that with our waiting for Jesus to come again. That is why today we jump to the middle of Luke, basically continuing the ideas that have been brought to us in the last three weeks of the Gospel of Mark.
At this point in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is the prophet – predicting what will come at the end of time when the kingdom will finally be established. It is not a pretty picture – rather scary – actually – and people will be frightened by what is happening and what is to come. The first signs will be natural. Natural upheavals in weather will signal the second coming. Out of this the Son of Man, Jesus, will appear with great power and glory. But rather be frightened, Jesus tells us to raise our heads, to stand up and be aware that we will be redeemed. Jesus tells us not to get so involved in the things of the world and the way of the flesh but leave time to be on guard and watch for the signs. Get your house in order. Turn yourself around – the main theme of advent, the meaning of “repent” – and pray that God gives you strength during this time.
Historically we have been frightened by these words but I think if we are truly living our lives as well as we can, are aware of our spirituality and religion, and are moral beings, loving our neighbors, that this should not scare us at all. St. Paul today stresses strengthening “our hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” In the first reading, Jeremiah is predicting a Messiah who will be called righteous. Well, that righteous Messiah has already come and has “execute[d] justice and righteousness in the land.” Advent is a time to remember that first coming and to repent and turn ourselves around for the second coming. We celebrate that first coming as Christmas Day. We don’t know when the second will be. If it were tomorrow will you be ready?
This is the Good News of repentance that we focus on in Advent. May we begin this week to be more alert and to turn our lives around in preparation for Christmas and the second Christmas to come!
Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]