Homily for 1st Advent (B), November 27, 2011. Fr. Joseph T. Nolan A priest once approached me to ask, “Have you any new ideas for preaching on Advent? All I have so far is three points: he comes in history, in mystery, and in majesty.” I said, “That’s terrific! The first one, of course, is Christmas, the Incarnation. The second, he comes in mystery, has been true ever since – he comes in word, and sacrament, and people. And the third, he comes in majesty, is his return at the end of the world.” He said, “That’s too much for one homily!” And I agreed. Since Christmas is our favorite feast and we even sing about it in our joyful carols, the coming that really needs attention is Jesus in word, sacrament, people. A person at daily Mass once said to me, “Why do you say at the end of Mass, ‘You are the body of Christ – go in peace to love and serve the Lord’?” I said, “Because you are. Have you ever heard that before?” She said, “No.” Somewhere we should have made plain to everyone that the body of Christ is indeed the consecrated host but also the consecrated people. That’s why we changed the prayer in giving the communion – and thank God that survived the changes we are incorporating today. The priest continues to say to you, in just four words, “The body of Christ.” And you answer, “Amen.” That means, as you know, “So be it.” Or as a youngster would say, “Right on!” So there is a double meaning that invites your assent! The real presence of Christ is not only in the host but in the people. And receiving communion is really an invitation to achieve communion with each other. In the old days (which were not always the good old days), before the reform of the Mass in 1969, only a minority completed the Mass by receiving communion. Now, it is a majority, and we offer as well as receive, by joining in the prayers, by song, by presenting the bread and wine – and really ourselves. We are all part of the offering, and gladly take the return gift of Christ himself. I mention this because a new generation may not know what a great achievement it was forty-two years ago, the first fruits of the Second Vatican Counsel, to bring us all into the great action we call Mass or Eucharist. The changes beginning today in your responses at Mass are rather minor, for example, the prayer, “Lord I am not worthy to receive you” is now amended to, “I am not worthy that you should come under my roof.” It is the more complete sentence from the gospel, the words of the Roman officer whose faith Jesus praised. It is astonishing, even delightful, to think that his words have echoed ever since in thousands of Masses, and we make them an act of faith, an invitation. The coming of Jesus in majesty refers to the official belief that Christ will return at the end of the world to “wrap things up,” so to speak. To come in judgment and salvation. This Second Coming is an act of faith to which many pay little attention, because it seems so unreal. And it is not helped by the surreal texts of the Apocalypse which are often read at the end of the church year, preceding Advent. They all have the fearful tone you encounter in the gospel today. This belief in the Second Coming has been misconstrued often, and has done much harm. Many fundamentalist Christians expect it is just about to happen – like next week – and they are quite sure they are among the saved. Unfortunately they borrow a word from Saint Paul, “the rapture,” even picture themselves caught up to heaven while the rest are doomed. They are the chosen few. I know there are texts like the Apocalypse in the bible that seem to support this final coming, but I refer you to the vision you find in John’s gospel. Unlike Matthew, Mark, and Luke, there are no apocalyptic passages in John. It seems likely that by 90 or 100 AD, when this gospel was written, they had decided the Lord is not about to come back any moment; rather, the community of believers called after the apostle John came to this wonderful insight: the risen Jesus, the Lord, is already here. It is the work of the Spirit; we should wake up to his presence and treat each other as members of his body. There is a medieval prayer for Advent that says it well. I first learned it from our beloved professor, Fred Lawrence, who has taught so long and so well at Boston College. These are words of wisdom from our forbears. Thou shalt know him when he comes not by any din of drums nor the flaunting of his airs. Neither by his crown nor his gown, nor by anything he wears but his coming known shall be by the holy harmony that his presence makes in thee.