Technically this is not New Years Day but it is a beginning of a new year in the life of our church, and the beginning of the season of Advent. With every new beginning we can take the sound advice of St. Paul when he tells us to ‘forget what is behind, forget past mistakes and lost opportunities, and strive on to what is ahead, open our lives to new life, new love, new opportunities.
New Years day is usually an upbeat day, unless we’ve had a too happy new year’s eve. But we do look forward to a new beginning. For the beginning of a new year our gospel is a bit out of sync, a bit intense. It seems less focused on the beginnings of things and more focused on the end of things. It’s true we don’t know what the future will bring and we can let ourselves we caught up in fear and foreboding, wondering about what will come upon our church and our world in the coming year. We can be obsessed with the worries of life. Like those who lived before us, in every generation we live in uncertain times. What will our new year bring? We question, will I keep my health, will I hold my job, will I be able to pay my bills,will I deepen my family life? The list could go on and on.
On this first Sunday of Advent we can ask God to make us abound and increase in our love for one another, that God strengthen our hearts in holiness and that we be blameless before God at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We ask God to help us live so as to please God. We are most pleasing to God when we try to keep the greatest and the most difficult of all the commandments of Christ, ‘love one another as I have loved you.’ As we go into this New Year we go in love, a love that challenges us to love others as we have been loved, a love that requires of us that we see and love Christ in every person we meet, a love that demands of us that we set aside our own prejudice, our own intolerance of others, our own narrow-mindedness when it comes to respecting the faiths and values of other people.
Advent is about preparing for the coming of Christ; the historical coming of Christ at his birth in Bethlehem, Christ as He comes into the daily living of our lives and Christ as He comes, in a time and way know only to God at the end of the ages. What prepares us for that event is the way we meet and accept Christ as He is welcomed or as He intrudes into our daily lives. That welcoming or that rejection of Christ determines whether we will be welcomed or rejected by Christ when life is over. I was hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, in prison and you were there for me – as often as you did this to the least of these brothers and sisters of mine you did it to me.
All of this is summed up in the opening prayer of this Mass: All powerful God, increase our strength of will for doing good that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming and call us to his side in heaven.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass and begin this new church year we can pray for ourselves and for each other that we be blessed with a strength of will for doing good.