Homily for First Sunday of Advent

In my previous parish I visited for a while a parishioner who was in a rehabilitation hospital. She seemed to be in there for quite a while and while there she would be given jigsaw puzzles to while away the time. Some of the puzzles had thousands of pieces, but she would work away patiently. One day when I went in she was working on a large puzzle, there were piles of pieces. I started to help and when I asked her what we were making, she said that she did not know. The puzzle had come in a large bag; the box was lost. I was appalled; this was madness. But she worked away and the next week it was half-done. The week after it was all done except one piece was missing. One little piece. It drove me spare, that one little missing piece; it mocked me!
Life can be a bit like a jigsaw puzzle with the box missing. We have our little pile of pieces, not quite sure what they make – a bit of sky perhaps – sometimes other pieces get added, sometimes our section connects with someone else’s, but we never get to see the whole picture; and frustratingly there are pieces missing. We see only a little bit at a time. And we may wonder – is there a whole? Does it all come together? Or is looking for meaning, for something bigger just delusion?
Advent reminds us that there is a bigger picture; in the words of today’s Gospel: ‘And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.’ We are heading towards something. One day, a day not of our making, a day which does not appear in our calendar, God will bring everything to completion in his Son – when our Lord Jesus Christ comes with all his saints, including we pray, our friends, loved ones, enemies who died in his mercy. Then all the pieces will come together – not before then.
We certainly should work for more just, compassionate, welcoming societies, but with the humble awareness that the perfect society will be brought about by God at the end. In the meantime we work with the pieces we have to do the best we can – imperfect as it may be.
Each of us has his or her task – the little pile of pieces which each day brings. A short while ago Pope Francis canonised Nunzio Sulprizio: He was very ordinary, an apprentice blacksmith who did not do anything great for the Church. He did not found a community or a religious order; he did not seek to join any movement in the Church or any special lay ministry. He was a young person, a simple Catholic, who was orphaned, who became quite ill working in his uncle’s workshop and suffered as a result; whose hardships were met by prayer; whose faith was not an escape but an anchor that held him firm. He died at the age of nineteen. He picked up the pieces given to him each day with faith and prayer and his life may seem short, inconsequential and incomplete here, but he lived it with faith and in Jesus it is more than we can imagine.
Our readings remind us not to get so immersed in the pieces of our life, that we forget who has given them to us and that he has given them to us for a purpose – so that we may live the kind of life that God wants us to live – a life of love for one another; a life in which we are always open to what the Lord, to what Jesus is asking of us in the present moment. We mustn’t let our hearts be coarsened – be so caught up in the pleasures and worries of life that we forget that we have received everything from God to serve his Son Jesus in the everyday task he gives us, with the people he places us with us.
Whatever we may face, however chaotic our life or even the world may seem, the Lord calls us to trust him. And then when he comes to make all things complete, to make all things new, we shall see that our little task was part of a whole beyond human imagining or creating – the glorious Kingdom of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Come, Lord Jesus!