FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT (2018)
Psalm 35:4-5, 8-10, 14
1 Thessalonians 3:12-42
Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
Some sixty odd years ago I was watching the pre-dinner Early Show on television which was airing “A Night to Remember,” the 1958 movie based on Walter Lord’s classic novel on the Titanic disaster. This began my fascination, near love affair, with all things Titanic. In its day, the Titanic was the world’s largest ship, weighing 46,328 tons, and it was considered “unsinkable.” Yet, late during the night of April 14-15, 1912, the great Titanic struck an iceberg, ripping a three-hundred-foot hole through five of its sixteen watertight compartments. It sank in two and a half hours killing 1,513 people. Before the Titanic sank, warning after warning had been sent to tell the crew that they were speeding into an ice field, but the messages were ignored. In fact, when a nearby ship sent an urgent warning, the Titanic was talking to Cape Race, Newfoundland, about the time the chauffeurs were to meet arriving passengers at the dock in New York, and what dinner menus were to be ready. Preoccupied with things thought to be important, concerned about making the trip in record time, and believing no doubt that the ship was, in fact, indestructible, the Titanic ignored the warnings, and responded to the Marconi wireless alerts, “Shut up. I am talking to Cape Race. You are jamming my signals!” Why did so many die that night? Perhaps the crew was mistakenly fearless. Perhaps the crew was preoccupied with other “important things.” There were not enough lifeboats for all the souls on board, and when it was time for a “mayday” the radio operator of the closest rescue ship, the California, was off duty. Whatever the reasons for the disaster, those responsible did not heed the warnings.
Sometimes we believe that our ‘ship’ is unsinkable, that our life is all well planned, and that the unthinkable can never happen to us. We need to read the signs of the times, we need to pay attention to the warning signals. If we are preoccupied with the trivial and less important things of life, we just might fail to hear the promptings of the Spirit. This First Sunday of Advent gives us the blessed message to be watchful, waiting and prepared, not just for the coming celebration of Christ’s birth, but also for the coming of the Lord at the end of time.
The first messenger in today’s liturgy is the prophet Jeremiah. In spite of the troubling times he lived in, he strove to give hope to a hopeless people who found themselves in exile. The days were coming when God would fulfill the promises “made to the house of Israel and Judah,” raising up “for David a just shoot” who “will do what is right and just in the land.” Judah will be “safe,” and Jerusalem “secure.” The people, says Jeremiah, will one day be able to proclaim: “The Lord is our justice.” The prophetic words of Jeremiah are also addressed to us who wait for justice to be done. For the Jewish people justice was not immediate. Indeed, their exile lasted some seventy years, and they sustained their hope not only with the prophecy of Jeremiah, but also with the prayers of the psalmist, who assured them that “good and upright is the Lord who shows sinners the way. God guides the humble to justice; and teaches the humble his way.”
Our gospel message is from Luke, who is speaking with the apocalyptic imagery we have heard proclaimed over the last two weeks by Mark and the Book of Revelation. It is imagery that is intended to inspire hope, but it also serves as a warning and a call to be ready for the last days. Indeed, the apocalyptic imagery appears to be amplified by Luke with his talk of “roaring seas” and the possibility of dying of “fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world.” But the fear engendered by Luke is also meant to create a sense of eager anticipation, for when the people “will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” they will know that their “redemption is at hand.” The Jesus of Luke wants His listeners to be “vigilant at all times,” not becoming “drowsy from carousing” or overwhelmed by “the anxieties of daily life.”
The message of today’s liturgy on this First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of a new liturgical year, is to be ready for the coming of the Lord. We are reminded that God has kept his promise of raising up “for David a just shoot” by sending His Son into our world, and as we prepare to celebrate His birth in a stable in Bethlehem, we are at the same time preparing to meet the Lord when He comes again. The call for disciples to be vigilant in Luke’s gospel is a reminder to keep watch over our lives, and to discern the warnings that are sent our way. Unlike the crew of the Titanic, who failed to heed the warnings, we should not be so preoccupied with the trivial things of this world that we fail to give attention to our spiritual welfare. Advent is a time to prepare, a time to conform our lives to that of our supreme teacher, Jesus, so that we will be ready whenever the Lord comes to us.
Paul, in our second reading, instructs us as to what we are to do this Advent season, and every day: “increase and abound in love for one another and for all.” The profoundly simple message of Jesus, to love God and one’s neighbor, is how we prepare for Christmas and the coming of the Lord at the end of time. By loving as Jesus taught us to love, we will never be at risk of dying of fright. We will never be unprepared to meet the Lord.