Sunday, December 2, 2018
First Sunday of Advent-C
Today there is a shift in the mood of the liturgy.
Last weekend, the last Sunday of the Church year, was the Feast of Christ the King, a day when we were decked out in vestments of white and gold, and we heard of the triumph of Christ’s coming in glory and judgment at the end of time.
This Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent (and Advent means “coming”), we are a little bit more somber, decked out in violet, and we lit the first candle of the Advent wreath.
We completed a Church year and we open a new one today.
Whenever we finish a year and begin a new one, two questions come to mind. One is rather pleasant: how has God touched you this past year in all of the good things that have happened in your life?
The second question is more difficult: how has God touched you this past year in all of the tough things that have happened in your life?
Advent reminds us that God is always with us: in the good times and in the tough times.
I thought I would tell you a story about a gentleman whose name was Henry Viscardi [1912-2004].
Henry was born without fully-developed legs. Henry learned to walk on those stumps, but he suffered the ridicule of the other kids. Coming home crying and hurt, he would ask his mother: “Why did this happen to me?”
His mother used to say: “Henry, before you were born God called a council of all of the angels. And God said to them: ‘We are going to send a little boy into the world with a disability.’ And the angels asked: ‘Where shall we send him?’ And God said: ‘We are going to send him to the Viscardis, because there is a lot of love in that family, and they will know best how to love Henry.’”
That used to make Henry feel pretty good: to know that he had a place in God’s plan and that God had something special for him to do. So early on in life Henry made up his mind that he was going to accomplish some great things.
Henry did well in school. As a matter of fact he graduated from Fordham. But by then he had done a lot of damage to those stumps by all of the walking. Medical people here in America did not have the technology to fit him with a prosthesis, with artificial legs. But he heard of a doctor in Germany who was willing to try. That doctor did so successfully, and for the first time in his life, Henry could stand tall and look people right in the eyes.
Henry wanted to pay the good doctor. The doctor said: “No, Henry. Your debt to me will be fulfilled when you do something that is significant for one other person.”
Henry set out to do just that.
When World War II broke out, Henry joined the Red Cross, and he had a special interest in people that had lost a limb.
When the war was over, he took an interest in disabled veterans who were unemployed. He founded an organization called “Just One Break” – JOB. He then served as a disabilities advisor to eight United States Presidents, from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Jimmy Carter, until Henry’s death in 2004.
I tell you this story about Henry Viscardi because it is easy to sense the presence of God when things are going very well. It is much more difficult when things are tough. But God is ALWAYS present among us.
We look for signs of God’s presence. During this season of the year when the days are shorter and the nights are longer, the temperatures are colder and the ice and snow are here, we look for signs of hope.
The Cherokee Indians had an insight about that. This is the story that comes from them:
When God created the world, God gave a gift to each species. And each gift came with a test.
“You will be the guardians of the forest,” God said to the trees and the plants. “Even in the dead of winter your brother and sister creatures will be protected in your branches. So your test is to stay awake and keep watch over the forest for the next seven days and seven nights.”
The young trees and plants were so excited to be entrusted with such an important job that the first night they did not find it difficult to stay awake.
The second night was not so easy and just before dawn a few fell asleep.
Even more fell asleep during the nights that followed.
By the time the seventh night came, the only trees and plants still awake were the cedar, the pine, the spruce, the fir, the holly and the laurel.
“What wonderful endurance you have,” exclaimed God. “You shall be given the gift of remaining green forever.”
Ever since then, all the other trees and plants lose their leaves and sleep all winter while the evergreens, ever alert, give color to the bleak landscape.
The evergreens are around all year long, but we pay special notice of them this time of the year. They are a symbol to us that God is with us all of the time – when the sun is bright, when the darkness is around, when the weather is warm, when the weather is cold. God is always with us: in the good times and in the tough times.
On this first Sunday of Advent we begin a brand new Church year. In this our darkest season, we lit the first candle on the Advent wreath, a symbol of Christ, the Light of the World. And His name is Emmanuel, a name which means “God with us.”
The four candles mark the four weeks of Advent, as we prepare for His coming at Christmas and for His second coming at the end of time. And notice the branches of the wreath. They are evergreens. They are a sign of hope that God will be with us as this year unfolds – in the good times and in the tough times that lie ahead.
God has sent His Son to be with us now and always. And the love of Christ is ever faithful and ever green.