“Living God’s Design to Bring Christ’s Light into the World”

Homily – 1st Sunday of Advent, Year “B”
December 3, 2023, Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption


We are entering into what is popularly called “the holiday season.”  Notwithstanding the debate over using the greeting “happy holidays” versus “Merry Christmas,” it is, indeed, a time of year marked by many special days, days that include not only “holidays” but also truly holy days. 

This is especially so for us Catholics, who recognize Advent as a time of preparation for Christmas as well as a time marked by many festive celebrations of different cultures throughout the world: St. Nicholas, the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Lucy, the posadas, Christmas Day itself, Epiphany, and so much more.  Both in the religious and the secular realms this is truly an enchanted time of the year.

The In-Between Time

And yet, it seems that, even with all the enchantment, each year we enter into this special season with evermore unease.  We are horrified at the growing violence all around the globe: in Ukraine and now Israel, in our own streets, and not to mention the persecution of Christians in many different places throughout the world.  We do not hear much reporting of this in the news media, but those who track these things tell us that the last century and this are the bloodiest period of history for Christians than ever before.  And even here at home we sense distress over what seems to be the disintegration of our society, with ever increasing bitter polarization, crime, homelessness, and a pandemic of anxiety and depression.

During Advent we prepare for Christmas, the coming of Christ who is the light come into the world.  He has come into the world, the light who casts out the darkness of sin and death and violence and sadness.  And yet, we see so much darkness still around us.  How can this be, if he came to give us his light?

In this early part of the season of Advent the Church has us focus our attention on Christ’s second coming, when he will return in glory at the consummation of all history to judge the living and the dead.  And so we hear in the Gospel for Mass today Christ’s warning to be alert and awake, ever vigilant for his return.  In today’s Gospel from St. Mark, our Lord gives us a parable about what it will be like when he returns.  He says, “It is like a man traveling abroad.  He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, .…  Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming”.

We are the servants he has left in charge.  He has risen from the dead and in his Ascension has returned to his Father in glory.  Now we await his return.  We are in this in-between time, a time of light mixed with darkness, a time in which he has entrusted certain tasks to each one of us.  What we do with that will determine how much light and how much darkness there will be in the world.

The problem is, all too often we get easily distracted by things that are passing away, and so fail to pay attention to the things that last forever, losing our focus on what will last into eternity.  We are not unlike our ancestors in the faith at the time of the prophet Isaiah.  We heard from him in the first reading, a prayer he made to the God of Israel right after the people had returned from exile.  During the time of exile, while they were away from their homeland and living among foreigners, they lost their religious practice, they began to blend in with the pagan peoples around them, becoming lazy and neglectful of their God.  Aren’t we the same?  How many people have not returned to religious practice since we were in exile during the time of the Covid lockdowns?  How many of us for far too long have been negligent of the devotion we owe to our God who loves us and saves us from sin?

Potter and Clay

Yes, there is darkness all over the world.  But of different types.  We are blessed to be spared the physical violence perpetrated on innocent citizens and especially on Christians in so many other parts of the world.  But perhaps this presents to us an even greater, albeit more subtle, temptation to abandon the practice of the faith.  Perhaps we have it too easy, and so can become lazy and complacent, just like Isaiah’s co-religionists.  No matter what form that darkness takes, however, the cause is always the same: rejecting God’s design and replacing it with our own.

Listen once again to the prophet Isaiah in his prayer confessing Israel’s sinfulness to their God: “… we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.”  Think about that for a moment: the potter shapes the clay with his hands as it spins in front of him; he continues to mold it with ever greater precision until it attains the perfect form for which he intends it; he then puts it in an oven to bake it until it becomes hardened.  At this point the vessel can now be used for the purpose for which it was designed – carrying water, wine, oil, food, and so forth.  As a ceramic vessel it is very useful for that specific purpose.

Ceramic, though, is very fragile.  If one were to try to redesign a ceramic vessel it would break into pieces and so become useless.  It could no longer be used for the purpose for which it was designed; it can accomplish no good.  That is what happens when we try to impose our own design over God’s.  God designed us a certain way, and we accomplish the good for which He designed us when we follow that design.  That includes all that He has given us: our faith, our talents, our time, even our very bodies, and most of all our vocation in life.  By living God’s design with all of these gifts we accomplish the good for which He designed us and we bring His light into the world.

For now, we are in that in-between time, the time of light mixed with darkness.  Think about that: Christ is the light, so what does that say about those who are in darkness?  It means they must be far away from Jesus Christ.  And what about us?  Are there parts of our lives that are far away from him, where we live in the darkness of our own design and do not want the light of his truth to penetrate?  If there is nothing perceptibly different about our lives from those who do not believe, how can we claim to live in Christ’s light, to live an authentic Christian life?

Standing Out

If we truly live in the light, then we will stand out as being different: we will be noticed as those who are faithful in their marriages, honest in their professional affairs and personal relationships, decent and courteous, respectful of others, generous with their time, talent and treasure in supporting charitable causes, those who forgive and who bear wrongs patiently, who keep holy the Sabbath especially by worshipping with their fellow believers, those who take time every day for prayer.

Advent is a good marker of where we stand in relation to light and darkness.  The markers are small, but they provide a powerful signal to us.  For everyone, believers and nonbelievers alike, this is a time of shopping and merrymaking.  But for us as Christian believers it is also a time of preparation, prayer and penitential discipline.  This will affect how we go about our shopping and merrymaking.  Gift-giving will be from the heart, festive gatherings will be for the purpose of enhancing communion with our friends and loved ones; even decorating the Christmas tree will be with thoughtfulness and the reminder that Christ came into the world to offer his life on the tree of the Cross to undo the damage of the tree in the Garden by which the serpent deceived our first parents. 

Moreover, if we are in the light, we will also incorporate Advent practices and all of the special prayers and symbols and rituals that mark this time of the year into our observances: the lighting of a family Advent wreath, handing on cherished family traditions, and also the observance of penitential practices.  This, of course, will require a very intentional effort given all of the special foods and meals and celebrations prior to Christmas, but something as simple as skipping a meal or abstaining from a favorite form of food or drink is a small but significant marker of one who is intentional about living in the light.  Above all, of course, is the practice of availing ourselves of the sacrament of Penance, confessing our sins not unlike Isaiah’s prayer to God on behalf of his own people.


We are entering into a very enchanted season of the year, as we do every year at this time.  And it presents to us a choice: to allow ourselves to be distracted by material indulgence and pleasure-seeking, or to take advantage of the rich spiritual meaning of this time of Advent and the plenty of holy days that mark this time of the year, with all of its special rituals, devotions, symbols and life of prayer. 

The choice is ours: to blend in and so be unnoticeable in the darkness, or to live in the light and stand out as people who know the Savior born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago and who can introduce others to him.  This is the task our Lord has entrusted to each one of us as his disciples during this in-between time, a task he calls each of us to fulfill in accordance with the personal vocation and gifts he has entrusted to each one of us. 

Let us, then, keep ourselves alert and watchful by living well God’s design for us, so that we may be capable of recognizing Him when He comes, and, when He turns to us, we may see His face and so come to be saved.