Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Advent: All Creation is Groaning - Homily for December 4



Readings for Sunday, December 4 / 2nd Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 11:1-10  |  Psalm 72  |  Romans 15:4-9  |  Matthew 3:1-12

You may recall from last weekend I mentioned that the word Advent means literally "to come to" and it's this season in which the Church invites us to reflect upon the Lord Jesus coming to us, particularly in His coming at Christmas - the first time He came - and looking forward to the day that He will coming again - His glorious coming on the Last Day. And so, as we go through the Masses and prayers of this season, we hear it over and over again, the references to the coming of Jesus. It's important for us to reflect upon those things, and so for these remaining three weeks of the Advent season, we'd like to look at those "comings." 

Today we will reflect on Christmas - the first coming of the Lord, next weekend we will look at His coming in glory, and the weekend after that, we will look at the ways in which He comes to us in the meantime, the ways in which the Lord makes Himself presence and available to us on the days between Christmas, His coming 2000 years ago, and the glorious coming whenever it may be. And so to reflect upon the first coming of the Lord, that first Advent, the Nativity, the day when the Lord Jesus was born to the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

I want to begin by asking the simple question: Why does it matter? Again, if you remember that the purpose of these homilies going forward is to ask the basic questions, and so what does Christmas matter at all? Why is it that on Christmas we celebrate with even solemnity - the Church gets decorated that much more, we put lights everywhere, we have special music, special songs - all throughout our life, we experience this joy that is supposed to accompany the Christmas season, and not only for us who are here pretty regularly, but even for those who are not particularly close to Christ, there is something still about the Christmas season that speaks to them. It happens so much that it's regular in the Catholic faith that we know on Christmas and Easter, there are a large number of our brothers and sisters that come and show up for Mass - we call it the Christmas and Easter Catholics, it's a regular thing, we've named them. But there is this reality that there is a large group of people, who are not otherwise here, are drawn by the mystery and the celebration of Christmas. The question is - why? Why is it that the whole world rejoices in that time? The simple answer I would suggest to you, whether we know it or not, is reconciliation. 

Our first reading today from Isaiah, He speaks of the days that the Lord will come, the days when Christ would be made manifest, looking forward to His first coming - Isaiah, writing some 600 years prior to the birth of Jesus. And so he is looking forward to the day saying, ‘These are the things that will mark the arrival of the Savior …’ There will be a time of peace and a time of harmony, justice in the land, no longer will there be these greater divisions and separations. He goes even further saying that it's not just humanity that is affected, but even the animals, the strange and striking images that we seem of the wolf and the lamb lying next to each other, the calf and the lion being friends, and how the lion will eat hay on that day, a sign of the harmony and reconciliation of creations. I was reminded of the creation museum, a museum built by fundamentalist Protestants up in Kentucky. From their perspective, it's a completely Biblical account, non-scientific, of what creation would've looked like according to the scriptures and what the timeline would've looked like for the world. One of the things that I laughed at and intrigued by was they said that at the time of Noah's Ark they still had the dinosaurs, and so their claim was, that on the ark, they had the T-Rexes, and by the miracle of God, the T-Rex did not eat all the other animals for the course of 40 days and 40 nights. Rather, the T-Rex calmed it's nature and ate hay. I laughed - not really sure I'm buying the whole T-Rex eating hay thing - but ok. What they were getting at was they were trying to harmonize that creation was not supposed to against one another, but rather there is supposed to be this fundamental harmony - that the lion and the lamb should be able to be next to each other without harm. Such is not the case, but it was in the beginning. 

If we think back to Genesis, the first days of creation, we see that the Lord God created all things. He created the heavens, the earth, all the things of the earth, all the animals, and He created the human person - Adam and Eve - male and female He created them, and everything He created He say that it was good. He looks out and rejoices at these things. Adam and Eve were created in what the Church calls "Original Holiness" or "Original Justice"; there was no division or separation between God and creation. How many times have we come to prayer and been distracted by other things? How many times have we not gone to prayer because we had other things we needed to do, or felt we needed to do at least? How many times have we struggled with the will of God because what I seem to want and what God seems to want are two different things? That's not how it was supposed to be though. Genesis describes the relationship of humanity with God as purely perfect, that God walked with them in the Garden, not that God was walking with them two by two on legs, but it was a symbolic description that there was complete union; there was no separation. 

But that came to cease with the choice of sin. Adam and Eve, whenever they chose to eat of the tree of which they should not have eaten, everything changed. This is the point that I think is important for us - EVERYTHING CHANGED. A lot of times we focus on the person, that Adam and Eve were changed, but it wasn't just Adam and Eve, it was all of creation. Adam and Eve would recognize that immediately after they sin, they hide from each other. They see each other's nakedness and are ashamed. So it shows that two relationships have already been broken by sin: the relationship with other people and the relationship with myself. Whereas I used to have harmony in my nakedness, not there is discomfort and shame because of what they had done and they hide from each other. And not only from each other, but from God, because when God comes back to the Garden and makes Himself manifest, they hide in the bushes fearful of what God would says. So many divisions have happen just in that one event. 

But it doesn't stop there. The scriptures speak of the Lord God coming to Adam and saying that on account of you and your sin, the earth is cursed; because of you, you have to toil by the sweat of your brow to bring forth food and the earth will bring forth thorns and thistles. It used to be a harmonious of God and man, especially with the Earth, but now it’s divided. For those of you who don't like to go out and labor in the field and you get upset whenever you get thorns and thistles or your walking the yard and things get caught in your foot, you can thank one person, his name is Adam. All of creation is cursed. 

Because it's not just us - you and me - but it's the whole world - it's written into everything that exists that we are waiting for a Savior, we are longing for a Savior. We are longing to be reconciled and go back to the way it was supposed to be. St. Paul speaks of it explicitly in the eighth chapter of his Letter to the Romans. He says, "The whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now, and not only creation, but we ourselves, as we wait adoptions as sons, the redemption of our bodies." The whole creation is groaning, it's longing for reconciliation. Longing. The lion and the lamb, they don't know it, but they want to be reconciled. And that's what Christ comes to bring and that's why we celebrate Christmas with such joy. Whether a person knows it or not, whether a person believes in Jesus or follows Jesus, every human heart and everything that all creation knows in the depth of our being, that on December 25th something has happened. They may not explain it in such words - we may call it family tradition or whatever we want - but that something that speaks to the human heart and draws us to church on December 25th is a longing of our hearts for reconciliation. A longing to be healed - to go back to the way it was supposed to be in the beginning but is not now. It's not something we have to learn; it's written into our nature. We want reconciliation and we want it badly. That's why we celebrate the joy of Christmas because we recognize that Christ is coming and He has taken on our flesh. Christ has become and made Himself a bridge - the great divide between God and humanity - He made Himself a bridge as He stretched out His arms on the cross, for us to be united once more, to be reconciled with God but also with each other and with ourselves.

We know that this isn't completed yet because we still struggle with God, with others and with sin in ourselves. It's a process of allowing the Lord to reconcile us little by little, to heal us little by little. So we come week after week to experience Christ in the flesh once again here in the Eucharist. To allow Him to reconcile us sometimes where we aren't really aware there are divisions. That's my invitation to you this week - to reflect on where in your life and where in your heart you need reconciliation because every one of us does. Not a single one of us is perfectly reconciled with everyone and everything but there is always at least a little something. St. John the Baptist comes and says, "Prepare the way," clear all of the stuff, get ready for the Lord to come. Let's work on the reconciliation and all it to come in its fullness. 

What is your struggle today with yourself, with your own heart? The things that we struggle with in our sin - bring it to the Lord and pray for healing. Reconciliation with other people; most often it's somebody we love in our own family, our own flesh and blood. We know that happens because we love people so deeply and so we say things knowing that they love us so much and they will probably forgive us. But sometimes it doesn't happen. Allow reconciliation to take place - either to extend it or receive it. Not only with others but with the Lord too. To draw close to God. To know that sometimes our love draws a little cold that the divisions are there separating us and we allow ourselves to build up walls because - whatever it is - it keeps us away from Him. It's an invitation to prepare the way, to be reconciled. The Lord came 2000 years ago and we will celebrate it once again in just a few short weeks. 

Let us pray that the grace of the Lord will be with us today to help us begin and continue that reconciliation that He came to be able to affect within our hearts. Let us draw close to the heart of Jesus. Let us be reconciled. Come, O Come, Emmanuel.