2 December 2012. 1st Sunday of Advent
Theme: Advent is a time of new beginnings, the start of a new year of Christian prayer and worship. The Gospel calls us to be ready to welcome our Saviour Jesus Christ at Christmas, and when he returns at the end of time. It’s a golden opportunity to make a new start in our personal spiritual journey.
Jer. 33:14-16. In those days [my people] will live in safety.
1 Th 3:12–4:2. Paul’s prayer for Christians to grow in fervour and holiness
Lk 21:25-28, 34-36. Making ready for the final day when Christ will come as judge.
First Reading: Jeremiah 33:14-16
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”
Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 3:12—4:2
And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
Finally, brothers and sisters, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus that, as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God (as, in fact, you are doing), you should do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.
Gospel: Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
[Jesus said to his disciples]: “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Starting a new Liturgical Year
There is a note of urgency and summons to alertness in both the second reading and the gospel today. These might provide one with a jumping-off point for some reflections on the start of the liturgical year.
Conversion: One might adapt or make use of Paul’s imagery of throwing off the bed-clothes and dressing for the daytime. The whole image is one of getting ready to take on another day. There is a hint here of the struggle that some people experience in trying to get up in the morning – a symbol for conversion. The day that has to be faced is the new day of Christ’s final coming. The real question to be faced is “Can we face Christ?” “Have we really cast off the deeds of darkness/self-interest, in favour of living in the light of the gospel?” The gospel faces us with this question about how alert we are to our real selves. We are supposed to belong to Christ; have we really lived as if that were true? Part of the struggle of taking on a new day is the struggle to hope that it may be better than the failures of the day before. The process of conversion, turning from the darkness to the light, is only made possible by the gift of the light itself. It is the rising of the sun that calls us to get up. It was the coming of Christ into the world as its light that makes true conversion possible.
The renewal of the old: Part of the process of beginning a new liturgical year is a reflection on time, the relationship between past, present and future. The “time” that we celebrate in Christian liturgy is not the static time of repeated patterns that never change from year to year. What we celebrate centrally in our worship are events from the contingency of history; events that we claim to represent. Starting a new year we need to remember that the saving events of Christ’s life, death and resurrection, have to be made present in life as well as liturgy. It is in the changing circumstances of new life and new history that the mystery of salvation will unfold. In this new year we will all change, both individually and as community; we pray today that the change will be for the better realization of Christ’s presence among us. It is important for us to be able to focus on this hope-in-change for the sake of the young people in the community who sometimes experience the church community as a relic of the past, “unreal” and isolated from the dynamics of history.
Seeking a new world: Today we are presented with an old vision of a new world. It is so old that some people think it will never become real. It is the vision of a world at peace (first reading.) The challenge of that lesson is addressed to each of us, the challenge to walk in the light of the Lord. It is only through seeking his revelation and living it out that the peoples of the earth will find the way to this new world of peace. The task of building this reality is given to all people but especially to Christians who follow the ultimate peace-maker (cf. Eph 2:11 ff..) The challenge and the urgency of the call to build peace is not confined to the scriptural word of God. Contemporary analysts tell us of the importance of transforming the instruments of war into tools for the development of a world at peace.
The new liturgical year offers us the hope that we will be better peace-makers in the future. It offers us the hope that if we do “put on Christ” our young people will not lose heart, and our liturgical celebrations will be turned not merely towards the past but towards a living presence and a real future.
Advent reminds us of the three comings of the Lord – the coming in history over 2000 years ago; the coming in glory at the end of time when God’s dream for human kind will be realised; the coming in mystery in the happenings of daily life.
Somebody has said that if we can learn in these weeks of Advent the importance of patient waiting we have learned one of the greatest lesson in life. This is hard for us, especially in the West. We live in an instant age – instant food, instant this, that and the other. We even speed up nature: with artificial light we fool the hens to lay two eggs a day! We are in too much of a hurry in having every possible experience too early in life – the morning-after pill for eleven year olds!
The most important things in life cannot be rushed and require patient waiting. Patient waiting is required from the mother to bring the child to birth, and then from babyhood to adulthood; the teacher requires it with the slow learner; the politician requires it not to give up on the peace process, and everybody requires it to build loving relationships. We wait not mournfully, but in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Expect the Unexpected
Today, the first Sunday of Advent , marks the beginning of a period of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Christ, our Saviour, at Christmas. All the readings in the Mass advise us most urgently to make ourselves ready, to be on the alert, to turn aside from our sinful ways, and give more time to God in our lives.”Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord,” Isaiah says in the first reading. We must not live lives of darkness and of sin, St Paul admonishes his listeners; but let us put on the armour of God’s grace, and appear in the light, meaning that our consciences should have nothing to hide at any time, but rather be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit directing them.”Be vigilant, stay awake,” the gospel warns, at any moment you may be called upon to make an eternal choice, and that as unexpectedly as the people who were swallowed up by the Flood, in the time of Noah.
Outwardly, people may appear the same, like the men working in the fields or the women grinding at the millstone, but inwardly they have responded differently to the graces God has given them. So they are in varying states of preparedness for what is to come, with the result that while some will be taken into God’s kingdom, others will be left or rejected. This is true of every single individual, for as we pass through life we are all being faced with a choice between two ways, either that of slavery to evil tendencies in our lives, which we call sin, or, on the other hand, that of grace, which is allowing Jesus Christ be our guide and exemplar in all that we do.
It is only when we sincerely try to model our lives on that of Christ that our spirits will experience real freedom. Jesus himself said to the Jews (Jn 8:32), “If you persevere in my word, you will indeed be my disciples. You will learn the truth, and the truth will make you free.” Persevering in the word of Jesus demands that we listen to it, as it comes to us from out the scriptures and from within our consciences; also that we think about it and study its requirements, and that we put into action what we have learned. The true disciple of Christ asks the question, “What am I setting before myself as the main purpose of my life?” My career, the gaining of material possessions, the pursuit of pleasure, or the service of God and my neighbour? The truth of Jesus will teach us what things are really important and what are not. Furthermore, discipleship of Christ brings its own rewards. It brings freedom from fear, fear about oneself, fear about one’s ability to cope with life, fear about contradiction and opposition from others, fear about death and the uncertainty of life thereafter.”In love there can be no fear,” St John wrote (1 Jn 4:18), “but perfect love casts out fear; because to fear is to expect punishment, and anyone who is afraid is still imperfect in love.”
If we end up having no love or reverence towards God, no respect or consideration or pity towards others, then we will have reached the stage of choosing to be lost, as Jesus, in his prayer at the Last Supper, said of Judas.”Father, I kept those you had given me true to your name. I have watched over them, and not one is lost except the one who chose to be lost.” This is what should really frighten us, that the choice of our own destiny for all eternity rests entirely with ourselves.
Advent is a time for listening.”Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,” the first reading tells us, “so that he may teach us his ways, and that we may walk in his paths.” The second reading is the one that finally brought about the conversion of St Augustine after he had opened the New Testament at random at that very passage, and please God it will help us to look into our own lives and, if needs be, change them too.