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Saturday, 28 November 2015

Homily for 1st Sunday of Advent Year C by Fr. Munachi Ezeogu CSSp

Jeremiah 33:14-16,  1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2,  Luke 21:25-28, 34-36,

-          On the Gospel - Look Out, Not Up!

An American missionary in Africa saw the need to have the Bible translated into the local language. He wrote home asking for financial support. One old lady in the parish, who thought the young missionary should have know better, wrote to give him some advice on the matter. "I do not think Africans need a translation," she argued; "If the King James Bible was good enough for St Paul, it should be good enough for the Africans." Our good old lady does not see that in order to preach the good news in any meaningful manner, there is a constant need to translate not only the Bible but also the very message of Christ in a way that the people can relate to. That is why King James had to have the Bible translated from the original Hebrew and Greek into English for the use of English-speaking Christians, in the first place. In today's Gospel we see how Luke translates Jesus' teaching on the Last Days in order to make it more meaningful and relevant to his readers.

Today's Gospel is taken from Luke, whereas most of our gospel readings since November last year came from Mark's Gospel. The 1st Sunday of Advent, marks the beginning of a new liturgical year. Today we move from the year of Mark (B) to the year of Luke (C). In fact, today's gospel is Luke's version of the gospel we read two weeks ago from Mark. Luke wrote his gospel many years after Mark. He knew the Gospel of Mark and included much of Mark's gospel in his own, making necessary changes to make it suitable and relevant to his readers. A minor example is in the story of the healing of the paralytic, Mark tells us that the bearers of the sick man dug through the roof (Mark 2:4) but Luke tells us that they removed the tiles (Luke 5:19). Mark had in mind a Palestinian house with earthen roofs. Luke, on the other hand, had in mind a Roman audience, and Romans made their roofs with tiles. As today we read Luke's version of Jesus' teaching on the Last Days, we should pay attention to the way Luke retells the story, in order to find out Luke's slant and particular emphasis in this important teaching about the Last Days.

Comparing Mark 13:24-32 which we read two Sundays ago with Luke 21:25ff which we read today, we see that Luke has left out all the spectacular sky events which Mark associated with the Last Days: "the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven" (Mark 12:24f). Luke rewrites this with more restraint: "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars" (Luke 21:25). Again, Luke leaves out altogether Mark's idea that the Son of Man "will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven" (Mark 13:27). Why does Luke leave out these easily observable and verifiable forecasts in Mark? For one thing, Luke now knows better. Mark wrote his gospel sometime before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. In his days Jewish Christians had supposed that the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple would coincide with the end of the world. But the fall of Jerusalem came and went and the world did not end. So Luke, writing about the year AD 80 had the advantage of hindsight which Mark did not have.

The fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple touched off a big crisis of faith for the early Christians. Because the expected end of the world did not come with it, many of them gave up altogether their belief in the Second Coming of Christ. They quicky settled for earthly pleasures, like eating and drinking, and gave in to moral laxity. To address their needs, Luke added the second half of today's gospel, exhorting them to be on their guard so as not to be weighed down with "dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life" (21:34). The word translated "dissipation" here signifies the state of nausea that comes after eating or drinking too much.

Advent is a time to prepare for the coming of the Lord. Generally we understand this to be his coming on the Last Day and his coming at Christmas, which recalls his historical birth 2000 years ago. Luke reminds us of another coming which we tend to forget, namely, his daily coming in the ordinary events and people in our lives. Luke's emphasis is that we should be vigilant to recognise and welcome the Lord who comes to us without warning everyday in people, places and events we least expect. If we are preparing for the Lord’s coming by looking up to the sky, Luke today invites us to look out, to look into the story of our daily lives and recognise the Lord who comes to us in ways we least expect.

-          On the Epistle - Is Jesus Christ Still Coming Again?

A certain man, Herbert Washington by name, was so taken up with the idea of Christ’s second coming and rapture that he became a pain in the neck to his coworkers. So his coworkers hatched a plan to pay him back in his own coins. One day, when Herbert went to the washroom, they lay their work clothes on their chairs and hid in the supply room. When Herbert came back from the washroom, he thought the rapture had taken place. The Muslim janitor, who was part of the joke, pretended to have witnessed everyone disappear and ran around the office feigning panic. Herbert fell to the ground clutching his heart and screaming, "I knew you'd forget me, Jesus! What did I do wrong?" He was taken to a local hospital where he was diagnosed of heart attack. He recovered after undergoing bypass surgery. "We didn't mean to scare him to death," said one of his coworkers. "He's just always talking about it, so today we decided to turn the tables on him."

Like Herbert, the Thessalonians to whom Paul wrote were obsessed with the nearness of the second coming of Christ. In his second letter to them, Paul reprimands the Thessalonians for giving up work and living in idleness (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15). Apparently some of them thought that the Lord’s coming was so near that there was no point in providing for the future. Such excesses on the part of believers give non-believers the impression that the second coming of Christ is a fear factor fabricated by Christian preachers to scare people into accepting the faith. Paul’s opponents in Thessalonika were making such claims.

Written about the year 50-51 ad, Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians is believed to be the oldest book of the New Testament. Paul had preached in Thessalonika where he established the church. He then moved on to Corinth. There he heard that the young church in Thessalonika was under persecution. So he sent Timothy to go and find out what is happening. Timothy came back to Paul with his report on the crisis of faith among the believers in Thessalonika. That was when Paul decided to write them this letter (1 Thessalonians 3:5-6).

The enemies of the church in Thessalonika were saying that Paul’s teaching that Jesus would come back to take his followers with him was Paul’s own fabrication. To support their case they pointed out that some of the first Christians who thought that Jesus was coming back to take them with him were already dead. In other words, they were deluded in their belief. Paul’s response is that their death does not mean that they will suffer any disadvantage when Christ comes. At Christ’s coming the dead will rise from the dead and, together with the living, they will meet the Lord in mid-air (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

If it was problematic for Christians of Paul’s time to believe in the second coming of Christ because some of them were dead, it is even more problematic for today’s Christians. Many centuries have passed since Paul’s time and yet we have not seen Jesus coming in the clouds. Paul himself who believed he would be one of those still living when the Lord comes (1Thessalonians 4:17) is long dead. Besides the notion of the Lord’s coming in the clouds was based on a flat earth theory, such that as he descended every eye would see him. Such a scenario is more problematic today given what we now know that the earth is spherical. No wonder, then, many Christians today do not take the belief in the second coming of Christ seriously. As a consequence many throw away the baby with the bath water.

Yet the basic faith of the church on the second coming of Christ is that “he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” Anything more specific than that with regard to how and when he will come is not an essential part of the faith and can often prove to be counterproductive. The best way to prepare for the second coming of Christ is not to engage in speculations of how and when and where it will be but, as Paul says, to “increase and abound in love for one another and for all” so that we “may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13).

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