CONSOLATION, DESOLATION AND RESTORATION: A HOMILY ON THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT, YEAR C
As a little boy, I knew a man nicknamed ‘Broken bottle’. He was given that name because he had a habit of saying ‘Broken bottle! No mechanic!’ which means that a broken bottle can never be restored back to its original condition. He says that especially when something really goes bad or is destroyed. People always see a new year as a time to begin all over again. But how can we begin all over again when we have a situation that feels like a broken bottle?
ISRAEL’S FALLEN TREE
In the life of the Israelites, they faced situations that could be destribed as broken bottles. For example, when Babylon and Egypt became political rivals, Israel decided to support Egypt. But unfortunately for them, Babylon won the battle and came after Israel. Israel should not have gone into this politics if they had put all their hope in God. The book of the Prophet Jeremiah was written to warn Israel about the destruction that is coming. This destruction is as a result of them trying to depend on worldly political powers instead of depending completely on God. When Jeremiah began to prophesy, the people hated him for it, because as far as they were concerned, they saw no problem. However, when the destruction became obviously inevitable, Jeremiah did something that can be considered stupid. He decided to buy a land. How can you buy a land when it is obvious that the same land is about to be destroyed? Then Jeremiah wrote the following:
First reading Jeremiah 33: 14 -16 “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring forth for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness’.”: Here Jeremiah describes the condition of Israel as that of a tree that has been fellled or cut down. He tells them that even though destruction is inevitable, so also will restoration follow. He predicts that after the destruction will come a day when God’s promise will be fulfilled, when God will cause a righteous branch to spring forth from David. Isaiah speaks of the shoot from the stump of Jesse. This promise is fulfilled, of course, in Jesus. The name of God is given here as our righteousness, or our justice. God is a just God, and even when his actions seem unjust, He is always faithful to His love for us.
IN THE FACE OF SUFFERING AND DEATH
The Thessalonians were faced with two big questions. The first one is on the issue of persecution and the second one is on the issue of martydom. It was becoming very clear to them that the chrisian life is a life of the cross. As Redemptorists, our virtue for this month is Self-abnegation and love of the cross. One would expect that if you become a christian, all your problems will be solved, which is the idea many churches use today in order to try and gain followers. But in their observation, christianity brought them more suffering and it seems the closer you get to God, the more you suffer. God seems to favour those who dont love Him more than those who love Him. Secondly, and worse than persecution is the martyrdom they faced. Many of them were being killed for being christians. All these made them feel that being a christian is not worth it. Maybe it is better to just start doing evil, since that seemed to favour those who did so. It is with these questions in their hearts that St. Paul wrote the following to them:
Second Reading 1 Thessalonians 3: 12-4:2 Brethren : May the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men, as we do to you, so that he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. Finally, brethren, we beg and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you learned from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.: In other words, St. Paul is asking them to do something similar to what Jeremiah did. In the face of suffering and death, they are to go about their normal business and they are to intensify their life in Christ, by increasing in their love for all men, to pursue a life of holiness and to set their hearts on God, on Jesus who is coming to redeem them, to continue to please God even more and more. In other words, even when the destruction of the land is inevitable, go and buy a peace of land, as if nothing is happening. Go on with your life as usual, knowing that evil will not have the last word. When people die, we often think it is all over for them and they have become like broken bottles, but Jesus’ coming has changed even the meaning of death. Death is no longer the end.
IN THE BODY OF CHRIST
Jesus had told his disciples that the Jerusalem temple will be destroyed. It will be destroyed literally. But by saying that, Jesus also predicts the destruction of his own body, namely in His passion and death on the cross. The disciples then asked Him when all of that will take place and He gives the following answer:
Gospel Luke 21:25-28.34-36 At that time: Jesus said to his disciples , “There will be signs in Sun , moon and stars, and upon the earth distress nation’s in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place , look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. But take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a snare, for it will come upon all who dwell upon the face of the whole earth. But watch all times, praying to have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of man.”: He first describes a situation of total destruction. The sun, and moon and stars and rivers and seas are very important to the people. They are able to determine dates and seasons using the rhythm of these things. When all these things are disturbed, then nobody will be safe. But Jesus tells them, as a new Jeremiah, not to live in fear, because if God destroys in His justice, He will also in His justice bring about restoration. But it is not easy to see things that way, especially when all we can see is broken bottles, fallen trees, and dead bodies. Jesus Himself will embody this reality by becoming a fallen tree Himself. He was crucified and He died and is burried. But like the shoot of the stump of Jesse, He rose. But they had to wait for three days for that to happen. Advent is about waiting. As we continue to advance in technology, so also are we advancing in our inability to wait. Advent is becoming more and more challenging, because whatever we want, we want it yesterday.
Jesus tells us to stand up and hold our heads high. Holding our heads high is also the same as lifting up our hearts unto the Lord. It is to change our perspective. Some situations may not change, but we can change how we see them. Instead of looking at things from our own human point of view, which will make us to only see destruction and fallen trees, we can begin to see them from God’s point of view which is the point of view of love. Jesus invites us not to let our vissions be darkened by our lifestyle, drunkenness and our problems. God loves us too much that He cannot abandon us to the powers of death, sin and evil.
In advent, we think of the coming of Christ in three ways. We remember His coming in the past, we celebrate His coming daily into our lives, expecially in Holy Communion and we look forward to His coming in glory at the end of time. This is why in our second acclamation we say ‘When we eat this bread and drink this cup (PRESENT), we proclaim your death O Lord (PAST), until you come again (FUTURE). At every mass, the moon and the sun and the starts all stop working. In other words, we enter into eternity, where the past, the present and the future is celebrated in one Holy Eucharist. But of all these moments, the present is the most important. We can be so preoccupied with the past and the future that we loose the present completely. It is true that Jesus will come at the end of time, but we can be so preoccupied with trying to predict the second coming of Christ that we forget that even now, Jesus comes into our lives daily.
Many people want to recieve Jesus into their lives, but they are not prepared for the destruction that comes with it. Whenever Jesus comes into a place, He does so in three stages. The first stage is the infancy stage and at this stage, Jesus gives consolations. This is what happens when people are excited that they have seen he light and suddenly their life has become sweeter than it had ever been. I call this the stage of initial ‘gra gra’. The second stage is the stage of growth, and at this stage Jesus gives desolation and destruction. This is important because before you arrange the room and make it beautiful, you have to sweep out the dirt first and clean dirty spots. In other words, this is the stage when Jesus begins to destroy anything that is not Godly in us and He starts to purify us. This is a very painful stage, and it is the stage at which many people run away. Only those who survive this stage will move into the stage of restoration, when Jesus will start filling our previously sinful life with virtues. He will first take away what should not be there before giving us what should be there. So, when that destruction begin to take place in your life, dont run away. Raise up your head and lift up your heart to God, because your Redemption is closer than it appears.
I am Fr. Ifeanyichukwu Henry Nwokoro, CSsR. I am your fellow child of God and this is my way of sharing my daily reflections with you. Please feel free to leave a comment, suggestion or question. Let everything that lives and that breathes give praise to the Lord.
View all posts by Fr. Ifeanyichukwu Henry Nwokoro CSsR