Updated: Dec 21, 2020
Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]
This weekend, we start a new liturgical year, beginning with the season of Advent. Hence, the purple, the trees, and the Advent wreath. Hence, our readings, as well. Since Advent prepares us for the Christmas season, our readings tend to reflect that.
Jesus, in our gospel, exhorts his disciples to watch. And he really, really, really means it. He repeats it three times: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord is coming. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”
Biblically, repetition can be a form of superlative. Where we might describe things by degrees, like: good, better, and best; or bad, worse, and worst; repetition has that effect in certain other cultures—even in our culture, to some extent.
We’ve already used it earlier in the Mass, when we confessed our sins: “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault—which leads up to that moment: “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts.”
Jesus wants us to be vigilant; he repeats himself for emphasis. The Lord will come most unexpectedly, he says: in an unexpected way, and at an unexpected hour. If one is not vigilant, one cannot be ready to welcome him.
Nearly two thousand years ago, the world wasn’t ready for him. Most unexpectedly, God chose to visit his people as one of their own. He chose to be born into the human race. The time of his birth was during an imperial census, which caused many people to move about from one place to another. They were busy about their own lives. And so, they missed that great event of the birth of Christ.
But even if they weren’t busy, very few would recognize the Christ, even if they saw him. That’s because he was born in a stable, surrounded by livestock, and later raised in the obscure town of Nazareth by humble parents; hardly the profile of a prophesied King.
We too, can likewise be just as unaware of Jesus. Whether we’re doing our Christmas shopping, traveling, or finalizing some other things before the end of the year, it’s easy to focus on our own plans, and miss an encounter with Christ.
When we’re not vigilant, we can be unaware of the reality that Jesus is already in our midst, just as he was already in the midst of many at Bethlehem, though he was beneath their notice. He was there in the womb of the Blessed Virgin.
And even if we’re told that he’s among us in the womb of the tabernacle, our inadequate ideas might betray us. We can unwittingly reject the Lord, even when he’s right before our eyes. Our own expectations can blind us to his real presence, already among us.
Did you know that the Eucharist is Jesus? Not a symbol of Jesus, but Jesus, himself. Statistically, only about one third of self-professed Catholics believe that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Jesus Christ. That comes from a Pew Research Center study in 2019. That’s heartbreaking.
But among Catholics who do attend Mass at least weekly, that number increases to nearly two thirds. My suspicion is that here, among all of you, that number is over 90% maybe even 100%.
That's because in our current environment, when faith gatherings are discouraged by many in our society, when many fear for their health, when we’re instructed to wear face coverings, when singing as a community is restricted, when we can’t gather socially afterwards, and when we have dispensation to not come to Mass until next year, the only reason to come here in person, versus watching Mass online, is to be with Jesus in the Eucharist. That’s it. You’re certainly not here for the homily.
Perhaps this Advent, we can cultivate this seed of attraction to the Eucharist. We can grow in our appreciation for Jesus under this most humble of appearances. Appearances, after all, can be deceiving.
We watch the sun go from the east to the west from sunrise to sunset; it appears as if the sun in traveling from place to place. But the reality is that the earth is rotating. Someone might appear to be unkind at first impression; but the reality is that we may have discovered a true friend. Likewise, Jesus may appear to be bread and wine; but the reality is that there is only Jesus in the Eucharist.
Let’s make this our Advent pilgrimage: to rediscover or re-appreciate Jesus in the Eucharist. Let our journey towards Bethlehem be our journey to him as he chooses to reveal himself. May we find him, love, and protect him, in his most humble appearance.