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Sunday 2 December 2018: First Sunday in Advent

Running to the Lord

Jeremiah 33:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2; Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

By John Deehan

Parish Priest of St Thomas More Eastcote in the Diocese of Westminster.


Context: For a suburban middle class family Mass

Aim: Using the story of St. Thomas More, to encourage the congregation to see Advent not just as a liturgical season to be got through on the way to Christmas, but as an ikon of the Christian state of mind, which waits for the Saviour so that we may run to him with joy and full conviction.


In the course of preparing this homily I was reminded of the experience of an acquaintance who was sitting in the outpatient’s department of a Roman hospital. The time of his appointment came and went. The minutes passed by and then the hour passed and there was no sign of the surgeon. By this time a number of people were feeling bored, and not best pleased. Two hours after the appointed time, the surgeon appeared, but as he came into the room a woman jumped up, ran over to the surgeon, embracing him and thanking him profusely, in stark contrast to how other people were feeling. Later her husband told them that the surgeon had operated on her for cancer, and against all the odds she had survived and was doing well.

Most of the people in the room were simply waiting for a surgeon for a routine appointment, but for that lady the surgeon was a saviour in the true sense of the word. Not only had he saved her life but he had given her hope, and something to live for. All her fear and foreboding were now gone. Her world, which was crumbling before the operation, had been put together again by the work of the surgeon.

Today we begin the season of Advent, a word whose Latin roots mean a coming, or an arrival. The Church invites us in our imagination to adopt a position of waiting, waiting for Christ our Saviour to come to us to give us a renewed zest for life, to put us together again.

The prayers of the liturgy help to create this climate of expectation. In the opening prayer today we ask God to give us the resolve to run forth to meet Christ. In next week’s prayer we are described as people who set out in haste to meet Christ. We wait, in a sense of expectancy, so that we may run to Christ at his coming. So our waiting in expectancy, however, which the Church exhorts us to do, is not something passive. There is work to do while we wait. St Paul invites us to increase our love for one another and indeed the whole human race, but this love is not something that we manufacture of our own power. The desire to love and the capacity to love have their source in the coming of the Lord Jesus whom we await.

While the world begins its seasonal celebrations around the time we begin Advent, the Church in its Liturgy does not even begin to think of the coming of Jesus in Bethlehem, the first coming as it was called, until we reach the third week of Advent, and even then it is not explicit. For the Church Advent is not a period of time to be got through, on the way to the ‘real’ celebration at Christmas. Advent has a particular focus of its own, the coming of Christ in glory, an event which may be far away in the future, and our preparation for that coming. When that day comes Christ’s work will have been brought to completion, once and for all. But the Fathers of the Church spoke about another coming, a more day to day coming. Christ is not absent until He comes in glory. Rather he continues to come to us, but in a very discrete way, so discrete that we will only discover him at work if we look for him longingly and open our minds and hearts to him in prayer. This is the meaning of those admonitions in the gospel to watch ourselves, stay awake and pray at all times, so that our hearts might not be coarsened or weighed down.

What does the completed work of Christ look like? We are given a clue in the Old Testament reading from Jeremiah. I will make a virtuous Branch grow for David, who shall practice honesty and integrity throughout the land. Honesty and integrity, speaking truthfully and acting truthfully. These are the characteristics of the Messiah, the virtuous branch growing from David, and those are the characteristics too of the Christian who prepares with expectation to run to Christ at his coming. We run to Christ because he is a true friend, integrity itself, who will show us how to be recreated in his image.

A particularly great example of a disciple who waited with Advent expectation is St Thomas More. More as you know was imprisoned in the Tower of London for several months as King Henry tried to break his spirit and bring him round to side with him in the cause for his divorce. At first he was given all the privileges due to a man of his rank, but gradually these privileges were withdrawn. Far from complaining, More looked on these privations as a grace from Christ his saviour.

During his time in prison More wrote several letters to his family who could not understand why he was taking the stance he took. Why not, they hinted, just say what the king wanted him to stay? More refused to say anything bad against the king , and he also refused to speak a word on behalf of the king’s cause. More wanted to keep his integrity and not compromise his honesty while not antagonizing the king, whom he genuinely loved. He knew that he was walking on dangerous ground, and that he possibly faced a horrendous traitor’s death by being hanged, drawn and quartered. He was quite fearful of what was to come, even that his faith would, like Peter’s, fail, but he drew strength from reflecting on the Passion of Christ, the source of divine mercy, and the joy of being with Christ and the saints in heaven. The night before he died, in a letter to his daughter Margaret he wrote, ‘I would be sorry if it (his execution) should be delayed beyond tomorrow, for I long to go to God’.

Advent is more than a season, it is the Christian state of mind, as admirably portrayed by St Thomas More and lived by less well known and maybe less heroic Christians who long to go to God, and meet God in the person of the Christ who comes, not only at the end of time, but in those every-day moments of grace and temptation.

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