First Sunday of Advent
Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
This weekend begins the Church’s year. Usually Advent is seen simply as a time to prepare for the feast of Christmas. In the current American culture, a tempered, penitential season is not in order.
For us, the season is actually a new beginning. Advent summons us to consider the coming of Jesus into our own hearts, and it calls us to prepare ourselves for the final coming of Jesus at the end of time.
Christmas symbolizes these additional occasions of the Lord’s arrival into our hearts. Advent is a penitential season. We must focus upon Jesus, uprooting the tendencies, and even vices, that separate us from God.
Jeremiah is the source of the first reading. His theme, as it was the theme of all the prophets, was that God’s people could expect no peace nor joy in their lives until they wholeheartedly returned to God.
In this reading, the prophet notes the sad state of affairs for God’s people. Misery is their lot. Sin has produced this unhappy situation.
Always merciful, always good and always protective, God will send into their midst a Savior, a descendant of King David. This Savior will bring justice.
The First Epistle to the Thessalonians supplies the next reading. It is an appeal to the Christians of Thessalonica, now the Greek city of Saloniki, to love each other. This love will signify inwardly following the Lord. The message ends by “begging” the Christian Thessalonians to live their lives in a way pleasing to God.
St. Luke’s Gospel gives this weekend’s liturgy its third reading. It is forthright, even stark, as is typical of Luke’s Gospel. Quoting Jesus, it states that suddenly and overwhelmingly will come signs in the sky, with the sun, the moon and the stars. Nations will be in anguish. The seas will roar. People will die of fright.
Amid all this great drama, Jesus will come in might and in glory. The Lord’s arrival will be an occasion to rejoice. He will bring final redemption. All will actively anticipate the Lord’s coming by praying and sacrifice.
This Gospel was written when, for Christians, the world was a difficult place to be. Certainly, the culture was against them. The political authority was turning against them. With Jesus, truly devoted followers prevailed.
Christmas, in every culture, is soft and lovely. Such befits the commemoration of the loving and forgiving redeemer, Jesus the Lord. It is the acclamation of life itself, and of redemption, even as it recalls the earthly birth of the Son of God to Mary in Bethlehem.
Still, the forthcoming feast of Christmas has profoundly personal, individual considerations, and in some respects it is a warning.
As St. Luke’s Gospel so bluntly says, and as Advent says, Christ one day will confront us all. It may be a personal meeting, as many Christians already have experienced. It may be at the end of time, in some manner yet unknown but about which the Scriptures offer colorful hints.
In any case, we all shall meet Christ. It may be a victorious reunion for us. It will be such a day, if we have followed the Lord in our own lives. Jeremiah looks to this day of salvation and victory.
On that day, good will stand starkly opposite evil. We must choose the side toward which we will go. If we choose the side of right, and of God, we will need strength. Evil is powerful. It lures us to death. God will strengthen us, but we must ask for this strength, and our request must be sincere, honest and uncompromised to be authentic. Thus, in Advent, by prayer and sacrifice, we strengthen our own resolve to turn to God, to meet Christ as our Lord and Savior.
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