First Sunday of Advent: Newness of Hope
We greet you a Happy New Year, a year that is full of hope because our God reigns! We are given the good news and we are expected to bring good news to a desolate people. There is a new King; a new kingdom; a new administration. The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our God.
In Acts 17, Paul and Silas went to the city of Thessalonica and they were accused of turning the world upside down. They were also accused of acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar and saying that there is another king, Jesus. They were really legally guilty of rebellion and subversion. They were tolerated to have new religions, but if somebody proclaims that there is a new king, they were liable to be sentenced to death. The high priests said, in front of Pilate, “We have no king but Caesar,” because they didn’t want to be guilty of rebellion.
We, as Christians, proclaim a new King. We sing songs at Christmas proclaiming that we have a new King. “Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let earth receive her King.” “The King of kings salvation brings.” “Glory to the newborn King.” We have a new King. Revelations says that the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our God and is Christ’s forever. Acts 2 says that Christ is He whom God installed upon Zion.
The good news, the gospel, came from the word: euangelion, which is a Greek word for good news. The idea was that a herald was sent ahead of the Roman armies from the battlefield to the capital to bring the good news of the victory of Caesar against the enemy. The good news is that, “Our king, Caesar, the son of god has won the victory.” Here is St. Mark opening his gospel by saying, “The beginning of the gospel (the euangelion) of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” He is guilty of rebellion because he is saying, “Caesar is not king; Jesus is!” “Caesar is not the son of God; Jesus is!” The good news is that He has won the real victory, and He is our new King.
After St. Mark says that the kingdom of God is here, and the good news is here, then we are told, “Repent because the kingdom of Jesus Christ is here.” Why do we need to repent and change our old ways? It is because our old ways, according to the kingdom of Caesar, will no longer work in the kingdom of God. The ways of self-centeredness, the ways of taking advantage of people, the ways of preying on those who are helpless have no place in the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ kingdom is the giving of self, peace and righteousness, so we are encouraged to repent. This is to say that we are to put our trust in this new and true gospel.
The truth is that the Christ the King ends the Liturgical year and we begin the year by setting our direction towards His kingdom until we reach its fullness. We participate in turning the world upside down. We turn over the kingdoms of this world from evil to good; from unrighteousness to righteousness. The valleys shall be exalted and the mountains and the hills will be brought low. The valleys – those who are oppressed – God will exalt them and He will raise them up. The lofty hills – those who are rich, the oppressors – will be brought low. Are you fed up with injustice? Are you fed up with those in authority that are corrupt? Are you fed up with arrogant people who are above the law? The kingdom of Jesus will right the wrong. The crooked ways will be made straight. The rough places will be made plain, but it will not happen by wielding the sword. It will happen through the reign of Christ through righteousness.
St. Paul said to overcome evil with good. We don’t play their game; otherwise, we are no different from them. Man’s works, the systems of the world will perish. The song goes, “The power and the pomp of nations shall pass away, and the kingdoms of righteousness and peace will reign.” Eventually, we will experience the fullness of it. This is what it means when we say, “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”
The life of the world to come brings hope to us! The Word of the Lord endures, and His kingdom will reign. “The arm of the Lord is strong. He stands in the midst of nations and He will right the wrong, and He will lead His flock like a shepherd. The lambs (those who are weak and helpless) He will gently hold. To pastures of peace, He will lead them and bring them safe to His fold.”
This is turning the world upside down. Sinners are forgiven, the meek and the persecuted inherit the kingdom, and the poor hear the good news and are favored. This is the hope that we have! We, as a people of hope, participate in the turning upside down of the world. Isaiah 11 says that the lion, the bear and the wolf will dwell with the lamb, the sheep, even with little children. There will be peace on God’s holy mountain. This is the administration of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. There will be harmony and no one will hurt or destroy on God’s holy mountain. No one will be predators and victims. They will live in harmony.
Jesus got mad at the Pharisees because they devoured the widow’s houses and they made children stumble. Jesus said, “My kingdom is all about visiting widows and orphans in their time of distress.” The office of the deacon of the Church was established in Acts 6 because they were ministering to the widows. The kingdom of God is about ministering to the valleys and exalting them. The mountains and the hills are being brought low because a Lamb now sits on the throne. In Revelation, a beast was reigning, but then a meek Lamb dethrones him and the Lamb establishes the new heavens and the new earth and the New Jerusalem. The Lamb rules with compassion and peace contrary to the ways and decrees of Caesar. The disciples of Jesus like Judas, Peter, and Simon the Zealot wanted to overthrow the oppressors by fighting them with the sword. Jesus said, “You don’t overcome evil with evil. You overcome evil with good.”
How did Jesus overcome powers and principalities? He did this on the cross by giving His life. This is our hope and the kingdom will reign and increase, and we adjust, we repent according to the ways of this Kingdom.
With this background, we read the gospel today with this lens. We do not see the gospel thinking of atomic bombs or the end of the world. Don’t cross reference Luke 21 with disaster movies. The gospel today was not about the end of the world, but the end of the world’s system. It is the end of the empire of Caesar and the end of the reign of unrighteousness. It is not this universe or this creation because there is no end to this creation. We say in the Gloria Patri, “…and Who was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end.” The world that will end is the world of unrighteousness. The power and pomp of nations shall pass. When we see these things happening, the powers of the heavens and the earth are shaken and there will be these signs of their collapse, and the Son of Man will be seen riding on the cloud. This means the victory of God’s kingdom replace the kingdom of wickedness and unrighteousness and abuse.
We are encouraged and given hope that when we see these things happening, straighten up and lift up your heads because our salvation is drawing near. The kingdom of God is coming, and this is real good news! This is our hope and God assures us that heaven and earth may pass away, but His Word will never pass away. The Kingdom will continue to be on the increase, and it will come upon on all those who dwell on earth. There is no end to the increase of His kingdom or of peace. There is no stopping the spreading of the kingdom of God.
We are then instructed: be alert; be prepared and pray that we will be able to endure the temptation of the world and be able to stand before the Son of Man because the world is headed towards Jesus’ kingship. Guard your hearts! Do not be weigh down with drunkenness, partying and carousing and the worries of this life. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness because this Kingdom is coming inevitably.
St. Peter said in 2Peter 3:10 that we can hasten the coming of this Kingdom as we participate in it. He said that since all of these things are going to be destroyed, what sort of conduct are we to have? If there will be a new kingdom, how are we to behave? In the story of the prodigal son, the father welcomed him even if he smelled like pig, but the son repented. Likewise, we are to repent, we are to change our ways, and clean ourselves according to the beauty and cleanliness of the mansion because our God is gracious enough to welcome us. Peter 3:14 said, “One major thing in our repentance is that we be at peace with everyone.” This is what the kingdom of God is all about and it is coming and it is reigning.
We set for the Church’s New Year the theme: Walking in Newness of Life. We are going to this direction. The reign of Christ should be implemented right at our homes. This is by living contrary to the ways and decrees of Caesar. We are reversing the wicked ways and overcoming evil with good. We start by focusing on the good. St. Paul said in Philippians 4:8, “Whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, if there is any excellence in anything and if it is worthy of praise, we dwell on these things.” We focus on the good.
I came across this prayer, “Lord, grant me eyes that see the best in people; a heart that forgives the worst; a mind that forgets the bad and a soul that never loses faith in You.” Sometimes, our default attitude is we immediately see the bad not the good. Romans 12:9ff says, “Let love be without hypocrisy; abhor what is evil and cling to what is good.” In our lives, I believe that there are more good to cling to than there is bad. “Love each other; outdo each other in giving honor; serve each other, pray for each other; contribute to the needs of the saints.” Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due and to whom it is not due. “Be hospitable, bless and do not curse; don’t pay back evil for evil, and be at peace with all so far as it depends on you. Overcome evil with good.”
1Thessalonians 3 said, “May the Lord call you to increase and abound in love for one another and then for all people.” Start in Jerusalem and then we can go on to Judea, Samaria, and all the outermost parts of the earth. Start in this so that we can finally begin to build our church without resistance and unimpeded. This is the first stage. On February 3, 2019, we will move to our new building and have our first Sunday Mass on our own property, but we need to heed these things first. We will be able to build the building and the challenge is not money, but the impediment to our building - the physical and temple of God (you and I, our relationship) – is the lack of peace, a lack of love and concern, and a lack of preferring one another in the spirit of seeing the bad, not the good, of holding sins against our neighbor. These are the ways and decrees of Caesar, and they have no place in the kingdom of God.
In the kingdom of God, we prefer one another; we pray for one another. We contribute to the needs. We are hospitable. We bless and we do not curse. We don’t pay back evil for evil. We are at peace with one another. Let there be unity, respect, and having one mind, one heart. Let there be respect and kindness to each other. Let everyone see the other as his brother and his sister, not as enemies. Let not there be “them” and “us.” We are one!
2 Corinthians 5:16 says, “Recognize no one according to the flesh (weakness) but as a new creature, not counting their sins against them.” We have been baptized, therefore, we are in Christ and we are a new creature. Therefore, we are to see each other as new creature not according to the flesh. See the Christ in the heart of your brother. Christ is working in your brother’s life and molding him so that he can live in His kingdom. We are not to count men's sins against them.
After we have taken care of these things in our lives, then, we can take on the business or the mission of saving souls. We can go out and proclaim to a desolate people the coming of their King. We can give them hope because we ourselves are to have hope. We, ourselves, are to live according to the kingdom of our God. Then, we can comfort, feed, clothe, and visit those who are sick. We can visit people in prison and we can heal and deliver them. We can set them free and minister to them. We can bring to them the real good news that Jesus indeed is King. Then, ministries in our Church to the poor, to the elderly, and to those who are oppressed will begin to abound again. The valleys shall be exalted, and the lofty hills brought low. We should participate in this as a Church and as Christians.
This is where we are going. This is what I desire for us to go. We will spread peace and love to the world but we need first to experience this right here in our community. We are going for a walk! Walk in the newness of life! It is good news and it is exciting. Advent is not penitential; Advent is anticipation. It is an excitement of the good news that Jesus is King and His kingdom is coming. We are going to walk in newness of life because this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.