Doesn’t it seem odd that I am wishing you a “happy new year” in late November? No, I am not following some obscure calendar but I am following the liturgical calendar of the church. Today (First Sunday of Advent) is the beginning of the church year which celebrates the life of Christ (which includes preparation for the coming of Christ, his arrival, his prophetic life, his suffering, death, resurrection, and the consequences of that prophetic action).
The word “Advent” comes from the Latin which means “coming toward.” What is coming is Jesus, and he is coming frequently toward history, so it becomes necessary to see that coming is historical perspective. Simply put, we are preparing for the coming of Jesus. He came in the past (the historical Christmas). He comes in the present (the Sacraments). And he will come in the future (at the end of the world). The time of Advent, then, is a reminder of the threefold coming of Christ: past, present, and future.
Today’s Gospel begins the cycle by focussing on two issues: (1)-“Be alert” and (2)-the vigilance of the doorkeeper. The admonition to “be alert,” seems to refer to the past and future. Christ came in the past historically, and we must “be alert” to what that historical presence means to us. If we are faithful to that historical past and emulation of Christ and what his coming means, then the future will eventually render Jesus’ positive judgement upon us.
The theme of the vigilance of the doorkeeper seems to center on the present coming of Christ. The doorkeeper is like the modern day butler, namely, allowing entrance into the privacy of the house (the self). For example, we must be alert not to allow temptations to enter into our “house” (person.)
In this season of Advent we are being reminded of the threefold coming of Christ: past, present, and future (historically, the Sacraments, and the final judgement). What this does is recall to mind the Advent theme of Immanuel (“God with us”) which indicates that Jesus is present with us all the time. A necessary reminder to those of us who tend to forget.
Have you ever thought of what people would say about you after you died? Would you be remembered for the good things or the bad things that you did when alive? I imagine your judgement would depend upon those things that most stand out in their minds, good or bad.
In today’s Gospel (feast of Christ the King), the idea is carried on that the king was the ultimate judge. Since we are at the end of the liturgical year, the focus of the reading tends to look at the “end times,” and judgement is part of the “end time” configuration. The Gospel is about the final judgement.
Jesus will judge all peoples, and the criteria are based on how these people treated others, especially the poor, marginal, suffering, and those who were considered the least of society’s segments. What is especially curious about today’s Gospel is that the final judgement is based on the deeper motivation of how the marginal are treated. This motivation is founded on two biblical presuppositions. First, all people are created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26). Second, treatment of the marginal person is the same as treatment of Jesus.
Given that first presupposition, those who treated the marginally fairly will be judged worthily. Those who treated the marginally unfairly will be judged unworthily. Realization of this suggests to us what today’s Gospel means. Our treatment of others, particularly the marginal, should not be founded on a quid pro quo basis, but, rather, on the basis of not seeking gratitude.
Rather than our treatment of others being a “Scratch my back and I will scratch yours” gesture, it should be like that of Yhwh treating Israel, “…I will love them freely….” that is, without conditions (Hosea 14:4). This will be a true test of our motivation, and whether our judgement is well deserved or not. This is what Jesus will look for. Long live the king!
Haven’t we all wished at one time or another to be something that we are not? Movie star. Olympic athlete. Rock band artist. Martial Arts master. And the list could go on. Does this mean that we are unhappy with what we are? Not necessarily. It could also mean that we are either stretching our horizons of possibilities or that we have to focus more on what is truly important. What is truly important is the fact that we have gifts, namely, something that we can share with another. God has not cheated anyone.
In todays Gospel (the thirty third Sunday in Ordinary Time) Jesus tells his disciples about gifts that people receive, and what they do with them. For example, a boss is leaving town and gives three of his employees different sums of money, quite likely to test out what they do with gifts. The first two employees invest the money and double it. The third is afraid to take risks so he keeps the money safe. When the boss returns, he praises the first two who increased their gift, and cursed the third because he did nothing with it.
What can we learn from this? First of all, our gifts are like investments. The more we use them the wider the effects they will have. Secondly, the fact is that some receive more than others. So what? We have a responsibility to use what we have and share. It seems to me that an effective use of gifts depends upon attitude. (1)-Discovery. Find out what my gifts are. We all have them, but perhaps we are unaware of their existence because of other’s expectations of us. (2)-Gratitude. Thank God for what we can do. Serendipity often helps us discover what some of those gifts are. (3)-Influence. Use the gifts to help others come closer to God.
Above all, thank God for your gifts once you know what they are. You may not be a better musician than the other person, but you may be a better listener to the problems of others. Talents surface and remain as long as they are of service to others. Perhaps the third worker in the above parable was not a financial genius, but quite possibly he could do something better than the other two. Quite likely, he later he found out what it was. Imagine what your discovery will be like when you know what your gifts are.