Archive for the Advent Category

Already, Not Yet: The Eschatological Tension of Now

Posted in Advent, Homilies, Scripture, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on November 29, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

advent-wreathAlready, Not Yet! This is a phrase often associated with the eschatological tension that is made front and center of the liturgical season of Advent that gets underway today. If “Jesus” is the “Reason for the Season” of Christmas, as the popular expression goes (though, in truth, God’s love for creation is really the “reason for the reason,” that is the reason for the Incarnation), then “Now!” is the “Reason for the Season” of Advent.

As we kick off another liturgical year, entering into the Gospel narratives of Luke in the months to come and prepare for the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy in about a week, it is worthwhile to step back and remind ourselves why it is that we celebrate Advent, what it is all about, and what it actually means for us (i.e., “so what?”). Our readings this Sunday provide us with excellent insight into the answer to these questions.

Our First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah (33:14-16) brings us back to the early centuries of the People of Israel. According to the Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the “Old Testament”), God makes four covenants, each with: (1) Noah, (2) Abraham, (3) Moses, and (4) David. The last of these is what is of interest to Jeremiah and to us here.

The promise God makes is that there will be a restoration of the unified Kingdom of Israel, which has at this time been split into two separate domains (not to mention the various capturing and recapturing of these from foreign nations). The covenant is that God will send someone from the Davidic line to restore the nation and community into one. While this is, on the one hand, about the historical reality of a divided nation, it is also, on the other hand, a prophecy that Christians believe exceeds the particular historical confines of the Davidic kingship.

God will in fact send an anointed one, a messiah from the Davidic line, who happens to be the Eternal Word made Flesh — God in God’s very self! The unity that is brought about is a cosmic unity, not simply uniting historically separated kingdoms, but the whole universe and all people.

Jeremiah is not really aware of this in his time, but nevertheless expresses in his prophetic proclamation a sense of this eschatological tension between the “already” and “not yet.”  The response is to address the question “What do we do now?” and his answer is twofold: to remember the covenant, the past, in which God made this promise and to hope in the future for its fulfillment. Meanwhile, we are to live out this memory and hope in terms of working for justice in our societies.

The Second Reading (1 Thess 3:12–4:2) likewise is concerned about the “already, not yet” theme of this season. Here the Thessalonians are deeply troubled about the length of time that it appears to be taking Jesus to return. They were expecting an immanent Second Coming, and what they got instead was a lot of anxiety about what would happen to those who might die before Jesus shows back up.

Paul addresses this head on in the spirit of Jeremiah, reassuring the Thessalonians by recalling the teaching and actions of Christ, placing their hopes in the future of God’s promise, and focusing on the present, the now. This last point is the bulk of today’s reading, an admonition to this early Christian community to not get all worked up about God not operating according to their schedules, but instead focus on how one is to live in the “now.” Paul explains:

May the Lord make you increase and abound in love
for one another and for all,
just as we have for you,
so as to strengthen your hearts,
to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father…

brothers and sisters,
we earnestly ask and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that,
as you received from us
how you should conduct yourselves to please God
and as you are conducting yourselves
you do so even more.
For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.

The season of actively waiting, of living into the “already, not yet” of our present reality is a season where we should work to increase or love for one another and live in such a way as to reflect the Gospel that has been handed down to us.

Finally, in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 21:25-28, 34-36) we have within Jesus’s extended foretelling of his death a promise of Christ’s return and a presentation of what that might look like. Despite the apocalyptic imagery that so often leads to fear and trepidation in the minds of most movie-goers, Jesus’s message here is really not about fear at all. Instead there is a clear instruction given about how to live in light of the “already, not yet” of God’s eternal plan.

Jesus describes the end times (eschaton) with vivid imagery, but then offers a twofold admonition to his followers. He says that in the now we are to live in such a way as to avoid (a) drowsiness, drunkenness, a sense of “taking life for granted,” as well as (b) the unnecessary anxieties of daily life.  With regard to the former, we can easily slip into complacency and forget about the Gospel call to live in the moment, to consider the example given to us in Christ.  With regard to the latter, we can get so distracted by our own agendas, interests, and concerns that we also forget to live the Gospel. Both of these should be avoided.

The season of Advent is a season of the now, it is a season that calls us to snap out of our quotidian malaise and our anxieties and fears in order to start living what we’ve been called to in baptism: Gospel life.

Photo: Stock



New Liturgical Year, New ‘Homilies’ Volume!

Posted in Advent, Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , on November 30, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

SickandYouCaredforMeWell it’s that time of year, with the First Sunday of Advent come a new Liturgical Year (Cycle B) and with that comes the last volume of the Homilies for the Homeless Series titled, Sick, And You Cared For Me (2014).

Those familiar with the previous two volumes (Hungry, And You Fed Me [2012], and Naked, And You Clothed Me [2013]) have come to appreciate the richly diverse collection of homilies and scriptural reflections that follow the Sunday celebrations and Solemnities of each respective Gospel cycle of the Liturgical Year.

The list of contributors is both impressive and has grown since volume one (and I’m not just saying “impressive” because I’m one of the contributors) — a quick glance at the list of authors illustrates what a rich resource this really is.

In addition to being a particularly helpful resource for preachers and an insightful book of reflections for those in the pews, the production of this series (Homilies for the Homeless) earns its title, for all the profits from the books goes to support several charities in the North East U.S. that feed, shelter, and cloth those in need.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough!  I know that I’m biased as a contributor, but precisely as one I want to attest to the commitment of each author and, most especially, the editor Jim Knipper, all of whom give of their time and talents to offer this resource to the church and help raise money for many of those who most need it. Order your’s today! (and they make great Christmas gifts!)


O Come Emmanuel: Everyday Incarnation

Posted in Advent, O Antiphons, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on December 23, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

incarnationO Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.

There is only one Incarnation, but there are infinite signs of emmanuel.

I am struck today by the text from Isaiah that is the source for this antiphon: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). The name of the coming Lord was foretold, but it wasn’t a proper name so much as a description of what God was about to do and what God has intended from all eternity.

The pregnant young woman, Mary of Nazareth, was a sign that fits the description of Isaiah, but she hasn’t been nor remains the only sign of emmanuel, God-with-us. If we are able to open the eyes of our hearts to see the presence of God around us, we know too can see signs of a divine love so powerful that it could not be contained simply to Godself, but must overflow into creation and in the ultimate expression of love in God’s becoming one with us.

Some years ago I wrote an article titled, “A Newborn and St. Bonaventure’s The Tree of Life as Incarnational Encounters.” In it I talked about how the experience of meeting and holding my godson, the firstborn of my two best friends from college, had been for me an experience of the Incarnation, of emmanuel. I saw reflected in the preciousness of this new life the reality of a mystery beyond words, a mystery that lies deep within each of us in the very contingent existence we experience. We didn’t have to be. Nothing did. Yet, God loved each of us and all of creation into existence.

In addition to experiencing the Incarnation in meeting this newborn child, I also recalled how St. Bonaventure in his treatise The Tree of Life offers a mystical reflection that would later serve as the foundation for and become popularized by Ignatian imaginative prayer and reflection. Bonaventure invites his readers to enter into the Gospel and imagine themselves there at the crib, alongside Christ, at the cross, and to experience what is being experienced in particular moments of God’s history with us as one like us.

Bonaventure’s reflections on the nativity are particularly striking for their vividness and beauty. His is a guided meditation: “Do not now turn away from the brilliance of that star in the east which guides you. Become a companion of the holy kings… adore, confess and praise this humble God lying in a manger.” He then invites us to “embrace that divine manger; press your lips upon and kiss the boy’s feet.” To kiss the newborn baby’s feet like parents admiring the new life they’ve co-created is something that has always stayed with me. It is real and lovely and far-less-abstract than talking about “keeping ‘Christ’ in Christmas.”

This sort of reflection helps me to think about the everyday experiences –- like new parents with their child or the love between partners or the beauty of creation –- that helps reveal and remind us of emmanuel. Christmas then is not simply a once-a-year time for presence and songs and “keeping ‘Christ’ in Christmas,” but is the starkest reminder of how Christ is already in Christmas and the day after Christmas and the day after that!

How better could we celebrate what we believe about the Incarnation than shifting our awareness to the presence of God-with-us still? May this Christmas be the beginning of putting “Christ” back in the “everyday!” And may we all bear witness to the infinite signs of presence and coming of Emmanuel.

Photo: Stock

O King of All the Nations: We Are Not One

Posted in Advent, O Antiphons with tags , , , , on December 22, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

international_flags2O King of all nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of humankind, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.

Anytime there is a tragedy or a triumph the expression “We Are One” seems to appear on placards and t-shirts, perhaps second only to the phrase “never forget.” Yet, I don’t believe that there is a less-truthful expression of reality out there. Rather than turning toward our inherent unity, that which we all share in common by way of source and future, we tend to bicker, fight, steal, maim, and abuse. This happens within the human family, but it also happens beyond it — a reality starkly aware to those paying attention to our ecological crises.

The reason that “We Are One” is so disingenuous has to do, I believe, with the second part of the first phrase in today’s antiphon: “the only joy of every human heart.” The reason that we are not one stems from, as Augustine would say, our disordered affections, the loving of things in a way disproportionate to their value. Augustine’s perennial concern was that things and people are mistakenly loved in this life as if they were God. God is be loved above all else, to be the only joy of every human heart, yet we subordinate God to material things like money and power or we subordinate God even to good things like those close to us.

Augustine does not think that we should only love God and disregard other people, creatures, and things in this life. Instead, the question is how do we love when we love God? Or, put more directly, what do we love more than God?

What the life of Jesus Christ reveals to us, what we anticipate in the quickly approaching feast of the Incarnation, is how we are to love God as if God was the only joy of every human heart. What Christ shows by demonstration is that to love God with all our heart and strength is to love others. To love God with all our heart and strength is to do that when it’s difficult, when we don’t want to, when we’d rather love someone or something else first, more, or rather-than.

While it is true that we are not one, I believe that today’s antiphon calls us to reflect on how we might become more unified in shifting the objects of our love and affection. Loving God with a singular joy means loving others in concrete and identifiable ways. Only then will today’s O Antiphon come to fruition: God can then be king of all the nations, a sign that we know our source and our goal, the object of our greatest love that is made manifest in our care and concern for others.

Photo: Stock

O Radiant Dawn: The Circle of Life

Posted in Advent, O Antiphons, Uncategorized with tags , , , on December 21, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

earthsunriseO Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: Come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

The catchiness of Disney’s The Lion King‘s opening song notwithstanding, I’m thinking of a circle of life having to do with a little more substance in light of today’s antiphon: “O Radiant Dawn, Splendor of Eternal Light.” Light itself is the source of life, at least that’s the case in this world. Without our Sun, there would be no life nor would there be an ecosystem capable of sustaining the life that finds its origins in that gaseous star closest to us. Each dawn marks the cycle, the circle, of light and darkness, of life and death, that completes the circle of life on this planet: Photosynthesis, consumption, decomposition, metabolization, regrowth, and so on.

Like all other living creatures — human and nonhuman alike — we are dependent on light to live. But like the bread about which Jesus speaks in the Gospel, we do not live on planetary light alone!

There is another light that dispels the darkness of death, a light that shows the way to go, a light that brings another kind of life. This is Christ the Light, the God of Light. What is interesting about what constitutes the Radiant Dawn, the Light of Life, is that this light is also the sun of justice. The life that Jesus Christ came to bring, that life that he desires us to have and live to the fullest, is a life of justice and peace. It is a life that is perhaps best reflected in the words and actions of Pope Francis when he calls our attention to the plight of the poor and downtrodden, the marginalized and forgotten, the voiceless and those thrown away.

The circle of life calls us to move in a direction away from the darkness of the night brought about by injustice and abuse, suffering and subjugation, to recognize that only in addressing these sins — individually and socially — can we begin to live in the light toward which we are called. This is why we celebrate Christmas. This is why we celebrate what the Hebrew Prophets and John the Baptist foretold. This is what it means to call ourselves Christians.

The imagery of light is used frequently throughout the Gospels to describe what it means to announce the Kingdom of God. We are called to reflect that light, which comes from the sun of justice, such that we can shine God’s love, mercy, forgiveness, and good news on others. We don’t do this with empty words and vapid platitudes, but with our feet and our hands and our actions.

Today’s antiphon includes a petition on our behalf: “Come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,” but it implies a response that we might not want to hear — a response, I believe, that most of us usually ignore.

The response as laid out in Scripture and modeled by the holy lives of saints and women and men of good will over the centuries is that the light of justice only shines when we are willing to be bearers of that light. Christ is not a helicopter savior who pops down miraculously here and there to help this or that person. Christ is the fullest revelation of who God is and simultaneously reveals to us who we are. We are the bearers of that light, we are those whose lives are nourished and sustained by the sun of justice, we are the ones who must do something.

Photo: Stock

O Key of David: Unlocking Life, Freedom, and Light

Posted in Advent, O Antiphons with tags , , , , , on December 20, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

keyring and keysO Key of David, O Royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of heaven: come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.

There are many terms and images we use and invoke to describe Christ. There is emmanuel, God-with-us; there is the Son of Man; there is the Incarnate Word; there is The Lord.  But how often do we pause and reflect on the coming of the Christ, the Messiah, and think: “Key of David.” In Latin the word clavis is literally a key that one might use to unlock a door. It connotes, like today’s O Antiphon names, a “power” that “controls” a passageway, a gate. But what might it mean for us to think about the coming of the Lord, the Advent of God in terms of a key?

I wonder if it isn’t one of the more appropriately literal images among the varied antiphonal terms. Unlike the Eastern Sun or Morning Star of tomorrow, or the Root of Jesse earlier this week, the key (clavis) has a singular and clear purpose: locking or unlocking something. While the other images lend themselves to a broader interpretation and metaphorical application, the Key of David begs to be seen for what it is — odd.

It’s odd to think about the Word-Made-Flesh as a key, but the second part of today’s antiphon points to what sort of locking and unlocking the Christ provides: Life and Death, Freedom and Captivity, Light and Darkness.

I get the feeling that so much of our world is conditioned by an attitude of death, captivity, and darkness. It can be difficult amid real suffering and pain, true injustice and abuse, to see life, freedom, and light in this life. Yet, the Key of David has entered the world to unlock this reality, the reality that Jesus of Nazareth called the Reign of God (Basileia tou Theou). And it is the reality that God has called each of us to announce and unlock as well (“Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will Be Done…”).

Whereas the Christ, the Key of David, comes to unlock those who need life, freedom, and light (“I have come to proclaim good news to the poor…”), we are also keys of a sort. However, we can turn ourselves far too often into gates that exclude and divide, that bring darkness and captivity. Perhaps we are not acting in such a way as to lock others out or cast a shadow of darkness or death over others, but when we aren’t walking, acting, and unlocking the Kingdom of God in the footprints of Jesus Christ, what other option is there?

Today’s antiphon has me thinking about the ways that we respond to the daily choices to lock or unlock, to work toward freedom or enclose others in captivity, and to reflect the light of God in the world or contribute to casting a shadow of darkness. The choice is ours, we are the key.

Photo: Stock

O Root of Jesse: The New Family of Christ

Posted in Advent, O Antiphons, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on December 19, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Family_Portrait_O Root of Jesse, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

My maternal grandfather was a big fan of genealogical research. I remember being a boy and going with him and my grandmother to libraries all over Central New York where he would read through hundreds of old newspapers on large microfilm machines, looking at obituaries and news articles for information about this or that person or potential relation. When he finally got a computer, one of the first programs he installed was family tree software and my brothers, my cousins, and I would often serve as his tech-advisors. While I loved that he loved this hobby so much and I learned a lot from it, family trees and genealogical research never interested me in themselves. What I loved was spending time with my grandparents and, as my work and ministry in academia has since reflected back to me, I think I loved being in the library and the process of research.

Such has been the case with the genealogies at the beginning of both Matthews’s and Luke’s Gospels — I find them to be rather boring, at least on the surface. Their points, although emphasized differently, are understandable and I don’t begrudge the evangelical redactors for the inclusion of these family lines, but I think I’ve always been much more interested in what follows in the Gospels about Jesus’s family than what opens them respectively.

No offense to Micah and Isaiah, who prophesied that the Messiah would come from the lineage of King David, the son of Jesse. But Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection establish a new family, one that transcends these earthly limitations and linear structures. And the new family of Christ helps to redefine how we understand the human family and the kinship of Christianity.

We begin to see this, for example, in the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus has this famous encounter:

While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matt 12:46-50).

The key is not the blood or biological or genealogical relationship, but the relationship established by doing the Will of God, which announces the in-breaking of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Reign of God.

We also get a glimpse of this new vision of family when Jesus, dying on the Cross, turns to his friend and to his mother and confirms another form of familiar relationship, a community of faith that stands for support, love, care, challenge, and embrace.

The Body of Christ, which is the church, is the new family of Christ, the lineage and inheritance of the Root of Jesse. It is not so much from whom you came as much as for whom you live! Are we part of this family tree? Do we do the will of God? Do we announce the in-breaking of the Kingdom?

Photo: Stock

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