First Sunday of Advent
The Church organizes the biblical readings at Mass into three cycles: A, B and C. This weekend, that of the first Sunday of Advent, begins the new Church liturgical year. Therefore, the readings for this weekend, and until Advent 2011, will be within Cycle A.
Most Gospel readings this year will come from the Gospel of Matthew. Because of that emphasis, the forthcoming biblical readings will allow us to learn about and reflect upon Matthew’s Gospel.
The first reading is from the first section of the Book of Isaiah. Inevitably, all of Isaiah is eloquent and profound, but at the same time blunt and frank. Isaiah often warned the people that if they did not return to religious fidelity, doom awaited them. This is a theme of the first section.
While somber, the reading is not hopeless. Isaiah also reassured the people that if they reformed, God would protect them. The faithful should never despair. After all, such was the ancient Covenant. God promised to protect and secure them, although the people themselves could, at least for a while, bring catastrophe upon themselves by their sins.
The almighty God will judge the good and the bad. Such is the divine right. It is also purely and simply logical. All behavior must be balanced against the justice and love that are in God. All must conform to God’s law. The faithful hasten the day of their salvation by loving God and obeying God.
St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is the source of the second reading. Paul always called upon Christians to live as authentic followers of Jesus. While stressing the need to be faithful models of Christ in human living, the apostle urged disciples to set their priorities by the standard that eternal life is the goal. Moreover, each Christian may face the end of earthly life at any time. Every human will face the end of earthly life. For the Roman Christians of this era, the end very well might come in the form of a gruesome death after being convicted of the crime of Christianity. So, Paul had a genuine task to accomplish in encouraging and challenging his Roman congregation.
The Gospel of Matthew, the last reading, predicts the final coming of Jesus. Beneficial reading of the Gospels requires realizing three perspectives: 1) The Gospel event in the actual time of Jesus; 2) The event as its implications came to be understood in the time when the Gospels were written, decades after Jesus; and 3) The place that the event occupies in the general literary structure of the individual Gospel.
Composed generations after Jesus, Matthew was written for Christians who yearned to be relieved of the burden, and indeed peril, of living amid harshly antagonistic circumstances by experiencing the triumphant second coming of Jesus. Recalling the Lord’s own words, the Gospel reminded those Christians, and reminds us, that indeed Jesus will come again in glory.
Advent, begun in the liturgies of this weekend, calls us to prepare for Christmas. Preparation is much, much more than wrapping Christmas gifts and decorating Christmas trees. It means actually working to make the coming of Jesus into earthly life, commemorated on Christmas, a truly personal experience when the Lord comes into our loving hearts here and now.
The Church calls us to be good Christians, to rid ourselves of anything standing in the way. It calls us to set our priorities. Regardless of Christmas 2016, Jesus will come again to earth in a most glorious, victorious and final sense. We will meet the Lord, as God’s judge, after death. We must prepare to meet the Lord. We must refine ourselves as honest disciples of the king born in Bethlehem. We today must shape our lives with priorities in mind.
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