Monday, December 4, 2017

Into the Small - Homily for the 1st Sunday of Advent (B)

It's not too often that we hear a one-word Gospel, but that's exactly what we have this morning: "Watch!"

Once again this Thanksgiving, I found myself at my aunt's house with my nieces and nephews. And they are growing up and we're playing ball outside now. But the warning is still there: "Be careful! Watch out!" -- especially for the little ones. Don't clobber them with the soccer ball.

That word, "watch," implies that there is danger. So what is the danger that Jesus is warning us about? Well, we could say that it's the usual suspects: sin, pride, selfishness. But, really, it's even more basic than that. The danger is that we might stop being on the lookout.

On the lookout for what?

For Jesus.

You see, during these next few weeks, we're going to have a lot do to. And we're all going to be tempted to forget what is most important: Jesus.

It's not as though we intend to forget Jesus-- it's not like we're trying to be malicious or bad. It's just that life, somehow, seems to happen.

I meet with many couples getting married or having kids baptized. And I ask them how their faith is doing and they many times say that it's been a while since they have been at Mass. And I'm like, "Ok, tell me about that. What happened?" And many times they don't know-- life just... happened. Things got busy.

At that point I tell them, "ok, yeah, it happens to the best of us. But it's good to have you back. Now we're gonna take steps so that we don't get swept away by the busy-ness of life."

I remember Ferris Bueller, that wise sage. He said, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."

It's true. Especially during busy seasons like this one when there is so much to get done. Don't overlook what is most important. As Jesus says, "Watch!"


Now, let us be painfully clear. I'm not just giving you good advice. The reality is, when we don't watch, we really do get ourselves into big trouble.

Exhibit A: have you seen the headlines recently? I'm not going to use the actual words because we have little ears here present, but we have all heard of "misconduct" and "inappropriate behavior." For the kids: just know that some men did some bad things.

Matt Lauer of the Today Show, one of those men, wrote an apology. In it, he says that he now must "take a very hard look at my own troubling flaws. It's been humbling." You see, at heart, he lost sight of what was important. And more, he forgot that small decisions, every day, build up and become big issues. Small decisions for virtue, each day, build up and become great saints. Small decisions for vice, each day build up and become, well, what we have seen on the news.

You see, we don't become great sinners or saints overnight. It happens with small decisions, each day.

You've probably heard it said, "Well, at least I didn't kill anyone." Ok, that's great. But is that what we are to be aspiring to? "At least I'm not Matt Lauer."

This is the danger, brothers and sisters. The danger not only that we might not "watch," but the danger is also that, in not-watching, we start to watch others. We start to compare ourselves and think ourselves alright. And, worse, start to condemn our fellow man-- for didn't Jesus see all of our sins, including Matt's? And didn't Jesus die for those sins anyway? Is there a sin worse than crucifying Christ? The Father forgave that. And He sends His Son to forgive-- even this.

We need to pray for Matt. And the victims. And we need to keep watch-- for we need to watch Christ. That's who we should compare ourselves to.


I think, then, of the beautiful church in Bethlehem which is built over the site of Jesus' birth. I've never been to that church in Bethlehem, but everyone who has been there remembers it. "Father Gerber," they say, "you've gotta see it!" And they tell me how big it is and gold and candles everywhere and how impressive it is. "And then," they say, "there's the door to the church." "The door?" I ask. "Yeah, the door."

What about the door? I'm thinking it's going to be impressive like the rest of the church: big, oak, gold leaf, ... "No, it's small. Maybe four feet tall. You literally have to bow to get in."

That strikes me as fantastically wonderful: in order to enter the place where Jesus was born, the place where we first saw the almighty God become small, we too must become small.

I think that is a crucial part to Advent. Part of us watching is to become like Jesus-- and, in the case of Christmas, He became small. Humble.

That means that as we prepare for Christmas, we must ask ourselves: are my preparations marked by a humble simplicity, a "smallness" if you will? Or am I in search for the big?-- the huge list of presents from Santa, the big party, the belief that if I get enough things, then they will love me.

The reality is: smaller is better. Just writing a small couple words in a letter, small words of love-- that is so huge in a world that doubts love. Even if it is as small as a tweet, big dividends. Or those small words: "I'm sorry." Big.


I mentioned Ferris Bueller at the beginning of this homily. Here's another 80's movie for you: Back to the Future. Have you ever noticed that Marty (the main character, lost in the 1950s, trying to return home to 1985)-- have you ever noticed that his friend, the comedic-relief scientist Doc Brown-- have you ever noticed that Doc warns Marty not to change a thing-- not one. small. thing. "Don't meet up with your parents, Marty! You'll alter the space-time contiuum!"

All sci-fi flicks that have a hero going back in time-- they all have that great caveat: don't change one small thing.


Because it's dangerous.


Because it could change your entire future.

Hmm. I wonder what would happen if we ascribed that thought to the present moment: what if you changed one small thing today? That small door in Bethlehem, that small babe in the crib-- can one small decision, one small person make a big difference?

Just you watch, says our Lord.


So, that's what I want you to do. Pick one thing. Just one thing. What is that one thing-- no matter how small-- that our Lord is calling you to do this Advent? Ask Him at this Mass. "Lord, what is the one thing you want me to do?"

And do it. Decide and do it. Believe that we don't become saints over night, but saints are made in this moment-- this moment of deciding to believe that one change for the good, one small act towards virtue will build up and grow and become holiness.

That one small thing might be to remember that we all need a Savior and that's why we have Christmas. Maybe it's to remember, when you are standing in that long checkout line, that the important center of Christmas is that Jesus has come to save us. That's what it means to watch.

There's a song that reminds me of that small, essential center of Christmas. I'll end with it this morning.

God rest ye merry gentlemen,
let nothing you dismay.
Remember Christ our Savior
was born on Christmas Day.
To save us all from Satan's power
when we had gone astray....
O, o tidings of comfort and joy....!

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