FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT (2021)
Readings:Jeremiah 33:14-16Psalms 25:4-5, 8-10, 141 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
As predicted, we begin the Season of Advent, and commence the new liturgical year, with the apocalyptic tones that would be so familiar to the early Christians. Indeed, you might recall that the community of First Thessalonians, the oldest book in the New Testament corpus, and the book from which our second reading is taken, were so convinced that Jesus’ second coming was around the corner that they stopped working, something Paul would tell them to refrain from doing.
Our first reading from the reluctant prophet Jeremiah, was composed some 600 years before Christ, and while his experience of personal suffering made him less energetic about preaching words of comfort, Jeremiah, nevertheless, tried to comfort the Israelites who were continuously engaged in battle mode. Eventually the Israelites would be conquered and taken off into exile, and the apocalyptic language of the first reading would bring some comfort as they were reminded that God would “fulfill the promise made to the house of Israel and Judah.” Although the Israelites were experiencing no justice, Jeremiah reminds them that God “will raise up for David a just shoot; he shall do what is right and just in the land. In those days Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure; this is what they shall call her: “The Lord our justice.””
Only a people who are suffering can appreciate the importance of justice, for its absence makes us long for it all the more. The promised Messiah, for us and for the Jewish people, will be all about justice. The entire psalm makes the mentality of the Jewish people clear: “Good and upright is the Lord; thus He shows sinners the way. He guides the humble to justice, and teaches the humble His way.”
Jesus, the Son of Justice, would be steeped in the ordinary Apocalyptic language that Luke uses in this Sunday’s gospel, language that sounds very much like the language of last weekend’s first reading from the Prophet Daniel who saw “one like a Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.” The bulk of the gospel readings used in the last week of the Church’s year are from Luke’s eschatological discourse, which speaks, as this Sunday’s gospel does, of the apocalyptic signs which will accompany Christ’s second coming, signs which could cause people “to die of fright,” if it were not for them seeing “the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” If people are right with the Lord, they can “stand erect and raise [their] heads because [their] redemption is at hand.”
During this Advent season, our focus is bifurcated, for our sights are meant to be fixed on Jesus’ first coming as a babe in Bethlehem, but we are also meant to focus on the second coming of Jesus Christ, when the world as we know it will come to an end, and Christ will gather all things to Himself. It just so happens that our preparations for both events will take us to a place where we are meant to be, as long as “our hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life.” Whether we are preparing for the great celebration of Jesus’ Incarnation, or whether we are awaiting Christ’s second coming, keeping our attention focused on what truly matters will prepare us for both. If we wish to prepare ourselves for both events, let us do what Paul recommends in First Thessalonians – may we “abound in love for one another and for all… so as to strengthen [our] hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His holy ones.” Whether those “holy ones” are shepherds, kings, and cattle, or whether they are a multitude of angels on the clouds of heaven, becoming more loving is what is right and just. May we never become so drowsy, so distracted by the anxieties of life, that we fail to become the kind, and loving, and just people, that our Lord and Savior has called us to be.