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Bishop's Homily for the First Sunday of Advent

December 3, 2017

First Sunday of Advent, Year B
[St. Benedict Church, Honaunau; St. John the Baptist Mission, Kealakekua]

We hear all the time that texting and driving do not mix.  For the second or two we take our eyes off the road could be the exact second a hazard suddenly presents itself, or we realize we are becoming a hazard to others.  Stay alert!  Have you ever burned anything you were cooking because just for a moment you were distracted and forgot what you had in the toaster, on the stove, or in the oven?  Has anyone ever started out with a strong relationship with someone, whether in marriage or friendship, a relationship that is joyful and life-giving for both people, then find after a while that you have drifted apart because you simply neglected to stay in touch with each other?  We have witnessed a steady deterioration of many things in our country:  cooperative relationships among the various races; respect for life in all its stages; trivialization of sex and relationships; the breakdown of family life.  These things did not just happen overnight, but they eroded little by little over many years and decades because we did not pay sufficient attention to them early on, and now it is extremely more difficult to bring them back to where they should be.  There are many reasons why this Advent season is a reminder that we need to stay alert, awake, attuned to what is happening around us and within us, so that we can respond with all that God has given us.

One of the greatest temptations in the midst of all the worries and woes of our world is to give up, to think that things are just too far gone for us to restore them to the way they should be.  Yet this Advent season is a time of renewal of hope within us, to remember that no matter how far our society has deteriorated, no matter how much our relationships have become disintegrated, it is our faith in God that can restore them.  And even more importantly, it is God’s faith in us that can rouse us from slumber and distraction to be awakened, as the shepherds were by angels on that first Christmas night, to realize that it does not depend on us, but that God has sent us a Savior to save us from our sins.

Another temptation is to think that such a renewal is merely spiritual, a change of attitude that allows us not to be so alarmed by the sins within and around us, so that we can be more tolerant of them without any need to confront them.  Yet God’s love for us was so great that he rended the heavens, coming down among us into this very sinful world in the person of Jesus, who concretely proclaimed the Kingdom of God by word and deed.  He awoke a sleeping faith in others that set the world on fire.  And it is fire that still needs to burn more brightly in our world.

Is it enough to say, “Come, Lord Jesus” in the safety of our prayer, yet remain in the stupor that keeps married couples apart and family members living like strangers in the same household?  Or does the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ rouse us to work deliberately to heal and build our relationships, never losing hope, no matter how difficult the task may be?  Is it enough to lament the fact that there are so many poor and homeless people among us rather than awaken ourselves to their plight by interacting with them, providing for their needs, and using our gift of education and the gift of our democracy to go to the roots of the tragedy of poverty and to fix our society so that such dehumanizing misery is no longer allowed to exist?  Is it enough to come here ourselves to worship the Lord every Sunday, thereby joyfully admitting that God is the potter and we are the clay, and not the other way around?  Or are we challenged to wake up and notice all our brothers and sisters who are not here with us, perhaps because they have been lured into the destructive notion that we are the potters who shape the clay of our own destiny?

The Lord of life wants to enter every human heart, enlighten every human experience of darkness, and set us free from every human expression of sin.  The Master of this world in which he has placed us wants to come to us so that we can rejoice in his everlasting presence and love for us.  He wants to bring everyone he has shaped and formed into his glorious kingdom.  But he depends on us as gatekeepers to stay awake, to be alert, and to notice whatever opportunity may present itself to open the door to a brother or sister who is in need of the shelter of his love.  And so he gives the Church this beautiful season of Advent so that we can become more alert, more awake, and more attentive, so that when angels sing we will recognize their voices, and so that when the Lord of Life comes in the most scandalously simple way, we can open the door for all to come and adore.