Friday, November 28, 2008

Homily for the First Sunday of Advent

A few days ago, as I was preparing for today’s homily, I turned on the TV and had Seinfeld going as I worked on the computer. It was that episode where one of Elaine’s girlfriends kept finishing every single one of Jerry’s sentences. And Jerry kept asking: “What does that mean? What does that mean?” Obviously, the idea was that he and this girl were getting to know each other too well and it was freaking him out that they were finishing each other’s sentences.

It’s true though. I’m sure some of us know people who are like that.

My grandparents were that way. I noticed it when I spent summer vacations as a boy at their house. My grandfather would be walking around looking for something and would say, “Have you seen…” “It’s on top of the fridge…” my grandmother would continue. While I thought it was freaky at first, I later found it quite fascinating. These two persons have been together for 60 years that they could pick up cues from one other and finish each other’s sentences. Their presence to each other made them know each other so well.

The First Sunday of Advent marks the day when we begin preparing to celebrate God’s presence to us at Christmas. And today’s readings speak, in turn of our presence to God and to others. It puts it in terms of being “awake", of being "ready". The gospel reading ends with a very important word from Jesus. "Watch", he says.

Being "awake" and being "ready" means being present in a way that goes beyond simply noticing. It means paying attention. It’s like what we do when we read the fine-print before signing important documents. Otherwise we could miss very important details.

Advent invites us to be more aware of God’s presence in our lives. But it also calls us to be awake to the kind of presence we have towards others. It invites us to pay special attention to them, so we can value and appreciate them more.

This whole season is really about being present to each other and to remember the importance of our relationships. It’s a great time to think of how we value one another. “Stay awake”, Jesus says. We enjoy life more when we are awake, when we don’t take each other for granted. Perhaps we’ve been unable to express our appreciation for those we love this past year? Advent is a time for making up for a lot of things. Later may never come.

In 1998, I returned home after almost seven years in Belgium. My grandmother was quite ill when I was away, and I had wanted so much to talk to her when I got back. She was already bedridden and I knew she wouldn’t last much longer. She was the first one I visited when I arrived. But she was asleep that evening. So I decided I’d come back some other time. But, I got so busy the next two weeks, I just kept putting off seeing her. One night, I got a call from my mom. My grandmother had passed away. I kept saying later. Later never came.

We would do well to be mindful of Jesus’ words today. Because Advent doesn’t only remind us of the value of what we have. It’s also a time of warning. It warns us that if we fail to value what we have, and make every effort to do what we can, while we have the chance—we may just realize one day that we’ve missed some really great opportunities.

Today’s celebration urges us: Don’t put off valuable things till later. You never know if there will be one.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)