Father Mitch Pacwa’s homily for December 2nd
It is always important for us to remember, as we enter into this season of Advent, that it’s part of a bookend celebration.
At the end of the liturgical year, we were reading text about the Final Judgment and the end of the world. At the beginning of the liturgical year, we do it again on the first Sunday of Advent. We take a look again at the End Times. And this is a bookends aspect of the liturgy in the liturgical year. We begin and end with a reflection on where the earth is going.
A lot of people would suggest that it is all going downhill, and all sorts of other things, but we do not look to silly people to say that it is going into an environmental crisis and such, and warming and cooling, and all the things as they change. All we need is a little more perspective. We have not had a good global cooling in 12,000 years. Maybe it is time. You know, it’s going to be a while.
Instead our perspective is from Christ, who sees the purpose of human existence: we are made for God, we are made in his image and likeness. And the goal of our history of salvation is a goal for us to be reshaped from our fallen state, original sin and the state of falleness that we all have, and to be remade in his image and likeness, that is even greater than that of the first Adam.
The first Adam had original justice but he was still in this world with all of its different issues. Christ is glorified. And that is why we focus on this end of the world, and lots of aspects that come with it.
And in Advent, what we are especially doing throughout the other days of the liturgical year is looking back to the way in which the Old Testament was filled with prophecies pointing ahead. It kept looking for, it had and still has, this perspective of looking for something better than what we see around us. And this notion of the future developed.
It began very simply with the ancient people of Israel being slaves and they were simply looking for freedom and a promised land in which they were not slaves. This was a very limited expectation. But as time went on, that deepened and grew. And they went to the promised land, and they saw that promise and its fulfillment, but they also still knew that they were sinners here. That is their history. The history of their own sinfulness. And they kept hearing from the prophets, that they would be punished but the punishment is not a goal in itself. The punishment that the Lord meted out to them, again and again, was oriented towards something more; this was corrective, and it is oriented toward becoming a better people and holy people.
They kept moving forward. And the punishments were difficult!
So today’s first reading, for instance, from Isaiah 25, belongs to a part of the Isaiah scroll that is written after they had been in exile in Babylon. They had been there from 587 BC until 539 BC. And in January of 538 BC, they were allowed to come home, and they did. This is from the time after their return, and yet things are still not quite perfect, by any means. They were punished, they learned an important lesson. They may not worship other gods. The idea that we read, especially in Isaiah 40 to 55, is that yes, there is only one God, there is no other, there will be no other and you cannot have any other gods. “Oh, that is what you meant when you said there’s only one God.” It’s as if they finally got that lesson. But they still had more to learn. And they will experience many more difficulties.
But at this point, even after their return home, and they are experiencing something good, they describe the sinfulness among them and among the neighbors. And so this prophecy, in Isaiah 25, talks about what the Lord will do. It is something that looks forward to God providing a rich meal, a wonderful banquet, and it says here, a feast of rich food and choice wines–juicy rich, food and pure choice wines. Twice it says fatty food. There is no margarine in heaven. There is no skim milk. There is no fat-free products. They are not going to give you soy burgers. It is going to be rich and fatty–twice he mentions it. This rich food. It says in Hebrews that you will have rich marrow. Marrow is one of the things that the ancients and even a lot of people in the poorer parts of the world cherish. That is one of the best parts of an animal: the marrow. And that is a symbol to them of the most the greatest delicacy they can have. This portrayal of a great feast is connected with the Lord destroying the veil that veils all people–their assumptions–because they had been in Babylon.
Babylon was a world capital. It was like New York or London or Mexico City. One of these enormous cities for its time. It was filled with all kinds of people, people from all over the world lived in Babylon while they were there. They were not the only exiles. And they saw and came in to contact most likely made friends with people from various nations. They could tell from that direct contact so many of these folks had distorted notions of God; that is the veil that is over the other people: distorted notions of what it means to be human.
No other people would have described themselves as being made in the image and likeness of God. If anything, when you read the ancient mythologies, you discover that they remake the gods in the image of their own sinfulness, with this one extra point that the gods are immortal and they can get away with all of these sins, and we cannot. But that is what the other people had. That is a veil that is over their minds; a veil that prevents them from understanding God and human nature. And God is going to take away that veil, destroy death forever, take away their tears.
This is a very important point. It fits one of the key themes of old and New Testament alike: repeatedly, Scripture teaches us that death is God’s enemy.
We have to remember that today. Because we see governments using death as their ally, whether it be the Nazis, who want to eliminate peoples that they think are inferior, so they use death as their ally, or Communist and Socialist governments who want to use death as an ally to eliminate anybody who disagrees with them–and they killed more than the Nazis.
People in our own society who want those who interfere–with my environmental concerns, my concerns for career–if they are in my way, I have to use my ally, death. And politicians buy into that. You see over and over again how they want to use death as their friend. But they are making friends with God’s enemy. This is what they do when they want euthanasia, abortion, elimination, rounding up their enemies, all of those things. They are making God’s enemy their ally.
God is revealing to the people of Israel that death will be destroyed. Something that Christ makes real by rising from the dead. That is the key element of his ministry. It is not just a vague hope. He anchors in reality that death is his enemy and eternal life is his ally. This is the promise here.
Then there will be this removal of tears from all faces, something that is restated in the book of Revelation as well. This is what we look forward to. And what is important is that this is addressed to all peoples.
In the early days of Israel, when their hope was simply to get out of slavery and into their own country, the promised land; at that stage of their history, they were willing to wipe out a lot of other people. They attacked and fought and won. They were part of the whole cultural movement going on in the late bronze age. This was happening, wiping out whole populations was going on all over the Mediterranean. It’s remarkable when you see the Mycenaean Greeks were wiped out. The Trojans and Hittites. Kingdoms and empires wiped out at the same period. And they were part of it. That is the way that they thought. But now in their own growth and development the people of Israel also say wait a minute; the Lord of Hosts will provide for all peoples. Not just for us. It is not that we get stuff and everybody we do not like does not. No. They’re opening more and more to understand that this is beyond you. Israel’s first call when Abram was called, you are to be a blessing for all the nations. It is finally beginning to sink in.
Realizing the vision of what God calls us to takes time. Married couples do not understand the fullness of their vocation during their engagement, their marriage celebration or their honeymoon; this takes a lifetime of development of what that vocation will mean and how they serve each other and the children. This is also true not only for individual couples and individual people but for this whole nation of Israel. They had to grow, and develop, and understand their mission was to all of the nations, and to proclaim to them, God will take this veil from you and separate you from your alliances with death–that takes time to realize.
But then, as I said, the purpose of Advent is to show that the promises of the Old Testament are then fulfilled in Jesus. Understanding, how right before this Gospel, Jesus had been criticized by the Pharisees, and he had gotten into an argument with them, so he left the territory on the western part of the Sea of Galilee. He went over along the northern shore to the east side. Reason for that is significant. This is the second multiplication of the loaves and fish; the first was on the Jewish side. This is on the Gentile side. There were plenty of Jewish people living there also, but it was a Gentile area. And the Lord now provides a feast for them. As a matter of fact you can tell; the place is easy to figure out. There’s only one mountain that comes right up to the sea of Galilee, and that is Mount Kursi, on the east side. Nothing on the west side. He is sitting on that mountain. And he is teaching them there. And then he multiplies the loaves and fish. And you can even see the Greek text, he multiplies little fish. And the baskets are close weave baskets, unlike the baskets. It won’t work for the baskets on the west side. Because on the east side, people fished for sardines; they do not grow on the west side, and the tilapia fish do not grow on the east side. It fits exactly this environment.
And he feeds them and heals them, and he is already bringing them new life to the blind, and the lame, and the mute, and the dead, and he is taking the away the veil that covers the nations, and teaching them, and healing them, and giving them life; this is his task. And we see that the promise of the passage in Isaiah 25 is now being fulfilled in Christ. And what we are to learn from that is this: throughout the season of Advent, we are to take a look again and again and again in these passages, how Christ fulfills those texts of the Old Testament promises, and if he fulfilled those prophecies. If he did what those prophecies said he would do, then we can trust that his own prophecy, that he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, will also be done in fullness and in truth. And there will be great depth to what he does.
This season we look forward to it, just as we do throughout the Mass. We keep praying, until you come again. This is our call to understand, and to see our own purpose, the purpose of our world, the purpose of our enemies, and the purpose of our culture in Christ’s terms of remaking us in his image and likeness, with this promise of great celebration to go with it.