WORD MADE FLESH

First Sunday of Advent – November 28, 2010
Isaiah 2.1-57 | Psalm 122 | Romans 13.11-14 | Matthew 24.37-44

Ralph Himsl

November 22, 2010

Probably only poets, romantics and other playful souls would bother to try to assign distinctive characteristics to the months of the year. As for the poets, we can think of T. S. Eliot and his label for April as the "cruellest month."

He goes on to explain, "breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain." I take some pleasure in thinking that I can almost get his point.

Romantics persuade us to accept June as the traditional time for weddings, and the playful souls give us April showers and May flowers.

People other than poets, romantics and the playful have ideas about characterizing months too. A homilist spoke of November as a month for remembrance. As the English might put it, "Well he would, wouldn't he, given Nov. 11 and all."

But the homilist added a reflection on the touching celebrations of All Saints Day, Nov. 1 and All Souls Day immediately thereafter. On such occasions our communities and churches remind us of the debts we owe and the obligations we discharge through ritual acts of remembrance.

'Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.' *#8211; Matthew 24.42

'Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.'

Matthew 24.42

In Canada we have the climate going for us in this remembrance business with the change of seasons clearly established in November. Its sombre tones lend a wistful quality to our reflections on the browning of the fields, the barren trees and the eccentricity of time change.

TURN THE PAGE

But here on Nov. 28, as if to shut down this reverie on remembrance, our Mass prepares us for Advent announcing a new liturgical year, turning us away from the one just past.

The text from Isaiah accomplishes that awakening with a wrench - words vivid with hope and promise.

So forceful, compact and sublime, their simplicity resonates readily, often finding place in the speeches of statesmen straining to bring their people to better things: "They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, . . . nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war no more." The words keep their power though men have long since stopped killing with swords.

Regrettably, those same statesmen may overlook the sentences just before: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths."

The text from St. Paul's letter to the Romans takes up the call to wake from our sleep and "put on the Lord Jesus Christ" - appropriate choice for the opening days of the season of Advent.

Characteristically, he leaves no doubt as to the behaviours which we should avoid. His words, and those of the Gospel predicting tribulations at "the time of the coming of man," meaningful in their own context no doubt, speak in severe tones which contrast with the serenity I have always associated with the days of Advent. They sound a caution.