FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT (2022)
Happy New Year! It does not feel like the end of the calendar year, when millions of people will wear funny hats and glasses, gather in public places to watch spectacular fireworks displays, and be entertained by countless celebrities and performers. Nevertheless, it is the Church’s New Year, and we begin with the great season of Advent, a time when we focus on preparing for Jesus’ birth on Christmas, and for Jesus coming again at the end of time. The exaltation of Jerusalem, God’s holy city, sets the eschatological tone in our first reading from Isaiah which will hang like a haze over the earthly details of Jesus’ birth. The responsorial psalm highlights the importance of Jerusalem for the Jewish people.
Our second reading from Romans, should remind us of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, where Paul is trying to get the Thessalonians back to work, for they were so convinced that Jesus was coming a second time that they just sat back and waited for His arrival. In Romans, a letter written several decades after Thessalonians, Paul is trying to get the Roman community to behave, because their salvation now “was nearer than when they first believed.” The “day of Christ’s (second) coming is at hand,” says Paul. They must change their behavior, and “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provisions for the desire of the flesh.”
Our gospel reading comes from Matthew, and not from his beautiful infancy narratives which we will hear proclaimed often in the Christmas season. No, the passage is from the latter part of his gospel where Jesus is speaking about His own second coming. His message is one of vigilance, be ready, “stay awake.” Shortly before His own death, Jesus gives testimony to a central tenet of our faith, that He will come again. He tells His disciples, “you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
There is beauty in the new liturgical year’s allowance of a time to get prepared, whether we are preparing for the birth of our Savior at Christmas, or whether it is Christ’s second coming we are preparing for, or even our own leaving of this world for the next. We are assured that it is all going to happen. It is up to us to make the effort to be prepared. And how do we prepare? We do not become saints overnight, but with God’s help and grace we do the best we can to do things that are going to bring us closer to the kind of holiness that characterizes the saints, a holiness that was often flawed. There is a big difference between striving for perfection, and thinking of ourselves as perfect. Indeed, the knowledge of our own imperfections is the beginning of God having an opportunity for breaking open our hardened hearts and placing the love of God there. Like the Roman’s we must “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” The more we look like Jesus, by living as He taught us, the more people will know us as genuinely Christian “by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”