First Sunday of Advent
With this weekend, the Church begins its new liturgical year. In so doing, it also begins to use the “A” cycle of readings at Sunday Masses.
This weekend’s first reading is from the first section of the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah is one of the most important prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures. Inevitably, it is eloquent and profound. It also is one of the longest books in the Old Testament, although in fact it is a collection of three distinct works.
As often the case with other prophetic books, Isaiah at times warned the people that if they did not return to heartfelt religious fidelity, their doom was on the way. Certainly, this is a theme of the section of Isaiah.
No prophet, however, including Isaiah, spoke warnings without expressing a most hopeful and faith-filled thought that God, the almighty and merciful, would protect the people in the end.
After all, such was the promise of the Covenant. God had pledged to safeguard and secure the people, despite their stubbornness and their fascination with sin and in spite of the catastrophe they brought upon themselves by sinning.
This weekend’s reading, the first Scriptural proclamation for Advent 2019, is a testament of this confidence and faith. God will judge the good and the bad. Such is the divine right. It is logical. Human behavior must be balanced against the justice and love that perfectly exist in God.
It is not a tale of gloom. Sin is to be feared. Human faithfulness to God brings peace and reward.
St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is the source of the second reading. Always, Paul called upon Christians to live as authentic followers of Jesus. While stressing their need to be faithful models of Christ in human living, the great Apostle urged disciples to set their priorities by making eternal life with the Lord their uncompromised goal.
Paul also bluntly said that earthly life can end at any time for anyone.
The Gospel of Matthew provides the last reading this weekend. It predicts the final coming of Jesus. In reading this passage, it is important to remember that the Catholic Church teaches that proper 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.
These are important when considering this weekend’s passage from Matthew. 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. They pined for the second triumphant coming of Jesus, recalling the Lord’s own words. They earnestly believed that they would be vindicated when Jesus came again in glory.
Advent, begun with this weekend’s liturgies, calls us to prepare for Christmas. Preparation is more than addressing Christmas cards and decorating Christmas trees. It means actually working to make the coming of Jesus real in our daily lives; a personal event, because we admit the Lord into our loving hearts.
Especially in Advent, the Church calls us to be good Christians, ridding ourselves of anything standing in the way. It calls us to set priorities.
Regardless of Christmas 2019, Jesus will come again to us at the moment of our earthly death. He will come as the triumphant Lord of life, the supreme standard of what is right or wrong. What appearance shall we make? Will we stand in the aftermath having been, in life, wholeheartedly devoted to Christ, or just occasionally, or maybe never? The choice among these options belongs to us now.
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