A reading from the Acts of the Apostles: (1:6-11)
When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will recieve power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking up at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” The Word of the Lord
You might think it odd to hear a reading about Christ’s ascension during an Advent service preparing us for the Christmas season. But I think there are two things we might glean from this passage.
The first is a reminder to us that the Advent season is not just a preparation for us to welcome the Word of God made flesh, come into our world as an infant. Advent is also a reminder that we must be prepared to welcome Christ when he makes his triumphant return to restore his kingdom in the undefinable future. The dual message of Advent is that while we celebrate the coming of Jesus in our historical past, we also prepare and celebrate our faith in Jesus’ second coming, still to happen.
Yet how do we prepare for this second coming? That is the second thing we can glean from the story of the Ascension in Acts. The Apostles were expecting Jesus to establish his kingdom right away. All they could do was stare openmouthed into the sky when Jesus was taken away. It took a kick in the pants by a couple of angels to bring them back to earth. The last thing Jesus called on them to do was to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” In other words, his disciples would become his body in establishing his kingdom throughout the whole world.
The Gospel writer John begins with these words:
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race.
Anytime we hear the word “word,” we must think Jesus. Let me say that again. Any time we hear the word “word,” we must think Jesus. Jesus is the Word incarnate — the Word made flesh. That is what we celebrate at Christmastime. As John shows us, it is Jesus who integrates word and deed. As he says: “All things came to be through the Word.”
It is only when the word becomes enfleshed, that is, aquires a “bodyliness” that we can begin to experience and know true love of God, peace, mercy, justice, healing, and all those things we regularly attribute to the kingdom of God. True Christianity is not “ideas” but actions. Actions are words enfleshed. Whenever we hear the Gospel preached at Mass - we become the Word enfleshed. Whenever we receive the Eucharist, we take on Christ in our own bodies. We, along with our sisters and brothers, truly become the Body of Christ. And by becoming like Christ — becoming the incarnate Word, we are challenged to act, because words without action are hollow.
So the question before us this Advent is: Are we going to be like the Apostles at the Ascension, staring up at the sky aimlessly, waiting for Christ’s return? Or, are we going to put flesh on the Word of God that we receive at Mass and follow Jesus’ final command to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth?