Sunday Sermon for December 1, 2013, the First Sunday of Advent, Year A

Readings: Is 2:1-5; Rom 13:11-14; Mt 24:37-44
In the second reading today St. Paul tells us that it is time to wake from sleep while Jesus, in the Gospel reading, tells us to stay awake. Obviously there is no way that a human person can remain awake in the physical sense, so we have to understand these statements spiritually. Perhaps we have been lulled into some spiritual sloth or into a false sense of security. It may be that some sort of worldliness has crept into our lives and has begun crowding out the Lord.

Regardless of the “sleep” that has overtaken us, the Church is calling us to wake up, put things right and move forward. Prayer is clearly the most important part of this awakening process because it brings us into union with Jesus. This is what Isaiah is talking about in the first reading when he speaks of all people wanting to climb the mountain of the Lord to the house of the God of Jacob so that He will instruct them in His ways and they will walk in His paths.

The mountain of God is Jesus Himself; He is also the Temple of the Lord. If we are to be instructed in the way of the Lord, Jesus tells us that He is the way and He is also the truth with which we will be instructed. This being the case, we can certainly read the Catechism or any number of spiritual books, but these will only teach us about the Lord and how to approach Him. Prayer will bring us to Jesus Himself so that we will know Him, not just know about Him.

It is interesting that when the people climb the mountain of the Lord and receive His instruction, there is a complete change in them. Isaiah says that the people will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. In other words, there is a change of heart in these people that causes them to be peaceful. This, Isaiah tells us, is what it means to walk in the light of the Lord.

In the second reading St. Paul calls us to throw off the works of darkness and to put on the armor of light. This light is the same light of the Lord spoken of in the first reading. It is important to note that St. Paul lists several of these points of darkness that we are to avoid in order to be clothed in light. He mentions orgies and drunkenness, promiscuity and lust, rivalry and jealousy. In many ways this describes the modern society in which we live.

All of these, and many more, St. Paul combines under the heading of the desires of the flesh. For these we are to make no provision. However, it is clear that he is including all of these among the works of darkness because he tells us, in this context, to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Just a few words prior he said that we are to put on the armor of light. If this light is the same light spoken of in Isaiah, as we said earlier, then Jesus and the light are one and the same. We see this also in the prologue of the Gospel of St. John.

Once again we have to pause in order to ask ourselves where in our lives we have allowed these works of darkness to enter. St. Paul says that we have been transferred from the realm of darkness into the Kingdom of Light. Have we allowed ourselves to be lulled into a sleep by the sheer magnitude of the evil around us? This would be rationalizing that what I am doing is not being as bad as what others around me are doing. It can also take the form of a compromise where we fail to uphold the fullness of truth because of political correctness.

St. James tells us that we are to stay sober and alert because the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. St. Paul’s admonition in the second reading seems to echo this point of St. James, but our Lord tells us that it is also about keeping our eyes on Him and being prepared for His coming. This gives us the best means to fight off the temptations: keeping our focus on Jesus. This can only happen with a fervent prayer life. Even then it is not simple because there are so many things trying to pull our attention away from what is good, holy and spiritual.

If we take the eyes of our hearts off of Jesus, then they will settle upon either the world, the flesh or the devil. These are the darkness we rebuke when we put on the Lord Jesus, the armor of light.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit