1st Sunday of Advent (Year C)
First Reading:Jeremiah 33:14-16 Second Reading:1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2 Gospel Reading:Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
Today is the First Sunday of ADVENT and with this we WELCOME a new Liturgical year with a new cycle of prayers and Scripture readings – Cycle C of St. Luke. Last Sunday we celebrated the Feast of Christ the King and waved GOOD BYE to the outgoing Liturgical year – Cycle B of St. Mark.
Literally speaking, the term 'advent' comes from a Latin word meaning 'coming' or 'arrival' of someone, but in the Christian liturgical sense it specifically refers to 'the coming of Christ.' So, “Advent” is a Holy Season when we spiritually prepare ourselves for “the Coming of Christ.”
Now, speaking of 'the coming of Christ', we find that it is a mystery, for there is not one, but three comings of Christ: (1) Christ has already come in the past about 2000 years ago, (2) Christ will come in future at the end of the world and (3) Christ still comes today in the sacraments – very specifically through the Eucharist. Thus in a general sense, the period of Advent encompasses all time viz. Past, Future & Present. So, a Christian in this sense is always a citizen of Advent. Therefore, it is not surprising that we begin the new Liturgical Year this Sunday, with the same theme of 'the coming of Christ', where we actually ended the old Liturgical Year last Sunday.
Generally speaking, we have about 4 weeks of Advent and the 4 Sundays of Advent are supposed to immediately prepare us for the celebration of Christmas, but they have an even more important preparation in mind viz. the readiness of each one of us for the 2nd & final coming of Christ at the end of the world; and this we do by means of our constant & active involvement through properly welcoming Christ, and receiving him in our hearts who comes to us today in sacraments.
We have the First Reading of today taken from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. Now, Jeremiah has something of a reputation for being a 'prophet of doom' and one may even refer to others who seem constantly to be miserable or pessimistic as a 'real Jeremiah.' But today’s First Reading shows that we may not always have the whole truth about Jeremiah, for it is a reading of promise that all shall be well.
Jeremiah actually wrote this when the nation of Israel was in chaos. The great kingdom of David had now been split into the Houses of Israel and Judah and the forces of Babylon were over-running the Southern Kingdom of Judah. People were being exiled to Babylon, great estates were being confiscated and the people were beginning to feel that God had finally forsaken His people.
But for Jeremiah, the cause of this catastrophe was quite simple: the infidelity of the Hebrews to their covenantal promises. And he proclaims that God is always faithful to His promises, and so, he speaks about hope. The God who raised David and made him a great king will raise up a new king from his line. The 'tree' that is the House of David may have been cut down, but from its roots a new shoot will appear. This new shoot will grow strong and in his day integrity and truth shall flourish - “I will make a virtuous Branch grow for David who shall practice honesty and integrity in the land.” This passage refers prophetically to the coming of Jesus, our King and Savior - That is the coming of the Child Jesus in Bethlehem, which we anticipate and prepare for in these four weeks of Advent. That is what we may call the First Coming.
The Gospel Reading of today according to St. Luke speaks in ominous terms of the end of the world and what we refer to as the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of time: “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves... And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”
Here Jesus speaks dramatically and graphically about an apocalypse, a cosmic upheaval - skies darkening, waters raging, and winds roaring – “signs” that will signal “the coming of Christ with power and glory.” We need to emphasize that the description of events is not to be understood literally as a prophecy of what is actually going to happen. Rather we are to look at the inner meaning of these happenings. The cosmic disturbances about the sun, moon and stars are traditional ways of describing manifestations of God's judgment of Israel. In ancient Israelite times, people believed that the sun, moon and stars represented deities who controlled world affairs. Israel believed that when God acted, these celestial bodies would be disturbed. So, what is being said here is that these celestial bodies which other nations believed controlled history would be shown to be helpless under the power of God.
However, there is still a third coming which forms an important and indispensable link between the First and Second Comings. That is what is spoken about in the Second Reading of today from the 1st Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians. It is the welcoming of Jesus into our lives in the here and now. This is something which takes place every day. By it we both acknowledge the First Coming of Jesus in Bethlehem and prepare for the Second Coming at an unknown future date.
Actually, the early Christians believed that Christ's Second coming would take place in the quite near future – and so, they very eagerly waited for it, neglecting their current duties. So, Paul strongly urges them not to so anticipate the 'world to come' that they forget how to live and behave here and now in 'this world.' Yes, Paul says, care for one another, pray earnestly, please God in your everyday behavior, and be ready when the 'Day of the Lord' comes to you and me in the mystery of death. Paul might as well ask us: 'What would we do differently today if we knew that this was indeed our last day?'
A bunch of navy men were returning from a long voyage in the seas and as the boat approached shore, the men were all looking for their wives and girlfriends on the shore ... eager to see them again! As the men looked over the crowd of women lined up, the air of excitement and expectancy grew. One man however was all alone as all the other men found their wives and girlfriends and they all embraced ... his wife wasn't there! Worried, he hurried home and found a light on in his house. As he entered he was relieved to see his wife, she quickly turned and said, "HONEY, I'VE BEEN WAITING FOR YOU!" His response showed his disappointment however, 'The other men’s wives and girlfriends were watching for them!' The difference between waiting and watching was only too clear!
The Scripture Readings of today teach us that we are to be 'watching' for the return of Jesus, not just 'waiting' for it. Those who watch for it will keep themselves alert and self-controlled; those simply waiting may slip into sloppy business with other things and let their priorities slip! Are we just killing time 'waiting' for Jesus to return, or are we really making time productive while 'prayerfully watching' for his return? We are to understand the days in which we live. In the gospel Reading of today Jesus exhorts his disciples and also us: “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.” We have to be a sentry! We are to be on guard duty. We have to be alert at all times. We have to be watchful.
Again, we are told of the 'judgment' at the Second Coming of Christ. We are therefore to be prepared for this judgmental moment when we stand before the Son of Man. Surely we do not want Christ to chide us in judgment: “I was hungry and you bought a Lamborghini car. I was thirsty and you hoisted your tenth Bud Lite. I was naked, and you bought the best in clothes. I was a beggar, and you passed me by like a leper. I was sick in a lonely hospital, and you were over-committed.”
So, as we begin today the Holy Season of Advent, it calls each one of us to be watchful, to be ready & prepared and not just to keep waiting for the Lord - and, this is the Good News of today.