(A biblical reflection on the FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT [Year C] – 28 November 2021)
Gospel Reading: Luke 21:25-28,34-36
First Reading: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalms: Psalm 25:4-5,8-10,14; Second Reading: 1Thessalonians 3:12 – 4:2
The Scripture Text
“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
“But take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a snare; for it will come upon all who dwell upon the face of the whole earth. But watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of man.”(Luke 21:25-28,34-36 RSV)
Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ. The very word “Advent” means coming. But there are two comings of Jesus Christ: His first coming, when He was born of Mary in Bethlehem, and His second, when He will come again in glory at the end of time. And so the Church divides Advent into two parts.
The first part which begins today and goes until December 16, emphasizes preparation for the second coming of Jesus Christ. The second part, from December 17 through Christmas eve, emphasizes preparation for the celebration of His birth.
Advent should be a joyful time, since expectation of a happy event is always a happy thing. Though the “Gloria” is not said in the Holy Mass, it is omitted not because we are sad or sorrowful, but only so that on Christmas our singing of this great song of the angels may in a certain sense be a new experience for us. Today we begin the joyful expectation of the final coming of Jesus Christ at the end of time.
There is, however, something of a problem here. The picture that many of us have of the final coming is, at best, short of joy. We have the idea that it will be a terrifying experience: a great, awesome cataclysm with the world engulfed in fire and the fearsome judge of all men calling us to account for the least wrong we have done. How can we be expected to want the end of the world, and to look forward to it? And yet the early Christians had an intense yearning for it. That is strange to our present outlook. If the early Christians looked forward to the end of the world, and we dread it, it seems obvious that our notion is different from theirs.
It is not surprising that we are troubled by the thought of the end of the world. In the Gospel we have just heard, St. Luke paints an awesome picture. Frankly, we are not quite sure what this picture means. The images in the Gospel are taken largely from the Old Testament, and they refer to a judgment by God. But God’s judgment destroys one thing only: sin, not goodness. And the world, the universe is good. That is the view the early Christians had. That there will be a change, even an upheaval, at the end of time seems clear, but not in the sense of the annihilation of the universe, but in the sense of the final fulfilment of all things in Jesus Christ. All sin, all evil will be removed from the universe by the coming of Jesus Christ.
Notice what Jesus says in the Gospel: “Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Lk 21:28). “Redemption” here refers not only to people, but to all of creation. Jesus saves us not by taking us out of the world and out of our own history, as if the world and all that men have done are evil. Rather His redemption purifies and perfects all created things. Complete redemption means that in Jesus Christ this universe will reach the purpose for which God created it, and in Jesus Christ all of human history will find its meaning and fulfilment. We do not know just how all this will happen any more than we know when it will happen.
There is much fear in our times that the whole world may just blow up through nuclear explosions. There is no guarantee that this will not occur. But we must not be afraid that God is going to lose control of His creation or that men through their foolish genius will upset God’s plans for the universe. Whatever may happen from the human angle, God will send His Son in glory again when He has decided that the time has come for the end of our present world. But that time will be a new beginning for all of creation, a time of perfection without sin.
And, what of ourselves? Naturally, we live in hope that we will be part of that perfection without sin. And we will be, if we live according to the words of today’s Gospel: “Take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life …… But watch at all times, praying that you may have strength …” (Luke 21:34,36). We will have confidence and joy if we try to live in accord with the prayer of St. Paul in today’s epistle: “May the Lord make you increase and bound in love to one another and to all men, …… so that He may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus ……” (1Thessalonians 3:12).
Today we begin a new Church year. During this year, we will celebrate all the saving events of the life of Jesus Christ. But today as we begin, we look to the end. We look to the completion of all the good that Jesus began by His life on this earth, a completion that will come only at the end of time.
Like the early Christians, we should have an intense yearning for the final coming of Jesus Christ. As we will pray in the Preface, we should “watch for the day, hoping that the salvation promised us will be ours when Christ our Lord will come again in His glory” (Preface of Advent I, the Sunday Missal [A New Edition], page 62).
Prayer: Heavenly Father, send Your Holy Spirit to renew Your Church. May we grow in faithfulness and godliness as we enter into this time of expectation. Revive us all with Your great power. Amen.
Jakarta, 27 November 2021
A Christian Pilgrim