Deacon Cornell’s Homily


Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b;64:2b-7
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:33-37


November 26-27, 2005, First Sunday of Advent, Cycle B

"Be Watchful! Be Alert!" What kind of reaction do we have to Jesus' words? Like so many things, our reaction is dependent on the image we have of God, and the Kingdom of God.

There is a tribe of Indians in South America that has among its customs a rite of passage for boys turning into men. When a boy reaches a certain birthday, he is taken out into the jungle for a night with nothing. If he survives the lonely night in the jungle, he is judged ready to become a man in the tribe.

So there was this boy who reached the fateful birthday. As the afternoon turned into evening, he was prepared for his night in the jungle with chants, and dancing, and anointing with strange ointments, and incantations by the village medicine man. As evening turned into night, he was blindfolded, and led deep into the jungle. The blindfold came off; he was stripped and left standing by a tree. As the torches of the tribesmen faded quickly into the dense jungle the dark became complete. With no vision, his hearing and smell seemed to heighten in intensity. He could hear every leaf falling to the jungle floor. He could hear every rustle of the brush, and smell things he had never smelled before. His imagination would not let him relax. Every minute seemed to take an hour as he waited for the dawn. Second by laborious second the night dragged on, filled with sounds and smells of danger and menace. It seemed that morning would never come, but his eyes never blinked, and he couldn't even think of relaxing. Finally, after what seemed like several years, the dawn started to penetrate the umbrella of the canopy. And as the black of night turned to the barest hint of gray, he saw the silhouette of his father next to a tree not 20 yards away, his spear ready to ward off any danger to his son. The young man's first thought was, "If I had only known, I could have slept peacefully through this night."

Are we watching for the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds with great power and glory with the fear and trepidation, like the young man in the story? Or are we watching as he would have spent the night if he had known his father was there to protect him? How we would react if we heard on the news that the world was indeed coming to an end in the morning. How many of us would be upset and put into a state of fear by this news? How many would be excited and happy and look forward to the morning with great anticipation?

No matter which reaction we have, it is clear that we are not to spend our time just standing around until the Son of Man returns in glory. We are to be watchful in a way that many have called "active waiting". We have many examples of what it means to wait actively. Do you remember the two weeks last January between the Patriot's victory in the AFC championship game and the Super Bowl? Do you think the Patriots were watchful and alert during those two weeks? Do you think they were waiting for the Super Bowl? Do you think they were just sitting around afraid of what would happen if they lost or made a lot of mistakes? No they were "actively waiting". They spent every moment working on things that would increase their chances of winning the Super Bowl.

We celebrate this season of Advent every year to remind ourselves ritually that we are waiting for the coming of the kingdom of God. We take this time out of the year, and by our prayers and scripture readings, remind ourselves that we are not just sitting around waiting for something to happen TO us, as that boy in the story was. This year, in the next 3 Sundays we will hear very clear stories of how we are to wait actively.

In the next two weeks we will hear stories of John the Baptizer. John was waiting for the coming of the anointed one of God, who would usher in the start of the Kingdom of God. But John did not just sit around crunching handfuls of locusts and slurping up some wild honey. He went out and told everyone who would listen about this wonderful in-breaking of God into history, and urged everyone to repent, to turn from their lives of sin and to look towards God. And 3 weeks from now we will hear the story that really drives home the importance of our participation in the salvation of the world.

In case anyone thinks that we are too insignificant to have an impact on salvation, we will hear the story of Mary saying "Yes" to God's invitation to bring God into the world as a human baby. Mary is as marginal as you can get. She is a women in a strict patriachal society who themselves are an insignificant oppressed people under the Romans. And yet, by God's own decision, God is radically dependent on Mary's Yes in order to bring about salvation. So 2,000 years ago, God, along with all of creation, held their breath waiting to hear what Mary would answer. If she answers No, God cannot go ahead with the plan. Just as we hear in the Gospels that Jesus could not cure anyone in his own home town because of the lack of faith in the people. Notice, it wasn't that he chose not to, but that he couldn't. By God's will, our faith is an essential element in the plan of salvation. All of creation breathed a sigh of joy and relief when Mary said, "Yes", and the plan continued.

But the story of salvation is not over yet. God and all of creation are still holding their breath waiting for our response to God's invitation to be part of the plan. We need to be watchful and alert. We need to see every decision we make throughout every day as a chance either to say no, and delay salvation, or to say yes and move creation every closer to seeing the Son of Man coming in power in the clouds. Be watchful; be alert. Say Yes!


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