First Sunday of Advent
The other day, like perhaps everyone else on the island and beyond, I found myself without electricity. That meant I didn’t have the usual light for seeing things. I have a couple of battery lights on hand, and even went out to get a few more lights as well as to build up my battery supply. I did manage to lose my keys in the midst of the limited light. I found them the next day and of course they were just where I had left them. However, in the dim light I managed to set something else on top of the keys. Sometimes you have to try harder to see more clearly the things that are around you.
In the Gospel Jesus reminded His followers to be vigilant at all times. The message of vigilance or watchfulness is repeated each year on the first Sunday of Advent, using a passage from the Gospel assigned to the particular year. Today we begin the third or “c” year of the Gospels assigned to Sunday Masses. Our passage today and Gospels throughout the coming liturgical year are from St. Luke.
In this Gospel Jesus called for His followers to be vigilant, looking out, looking ahead, so that they would be ready for His return in judgment and glory at the end of time. Advent is the season of looking ahead. On the more immediate level we are looking ahead to the annual celebration of the birth of Jesus, the first coming of the Son of Man, as Jesus identified Himself in the Gospel.
Our first reading from the prophet Jeremiah records his message from some 600 years earlier, a message from God. In the midst of a time of great trial for God’s chosen people Jeremiah told them that God would eventually raise up a descendant of King David who would restore God’s people to safety and security. We see in this prophecy the foretelling of the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, whose birth we prepare to celebrate. One aspect of our Advent season is to recall the centuries of waiting and hoping by God’s people. They awaited a Messiah who would bring them a way of living unlike any they had known before. And all the more, than, we rejoice that we live in the age since that Messiah has come. And the celebration of His birth in time underscores our belief and cause for rejoicing.
However, in the Gospel Jesus spoke of His more dramatic coming, or returning, at the end of human history, when the redemption that He won for His people would be fully realized, and those who remained united and faithful to Jesus would enter upon an eternal state of security and safety. It is the eternal security and safety and joy of the restored and eternal Jerusalem which is heaven.
We live in the era between the First coming of Jesus in Bethlehem more than 2000 years ago and His final coming at the end of time. But more immediate than that coming at the end of history is His encounter with us at the end of our own earthly history, our death at the end of our lives. And the Advent theme for living in this era is vigilance. That is what Jesus calls us to. Advent is a season to refine our vigilance, as we look ahead to our encounter with Jesus at the end of our lives.
Jesus further gave some more specific guidance as to how to remain vigilant. He warned against the kind of activity that can distract us from our central purpose of readiness to encounter Him in glory. He spoke of drunkenness and carousing and the anxieties of daily life. Now drunkenness and carousing may not characterize our lives, but we all have anxieties of daily life that we need to keep in perspective. And Jesus began the warning by saying that people’s hearts could become drowsy through these things. That’s the real issue. Apart from drunkenness of carousing there are a lot of other behaviors that weaken the ability to love God and others. That includes all those little things that cause hurt for others, or fail to recognize the opportunities to help them. The second leg of Jesus’ advice is prayer, the consistent dialogue with God that keeps our relationship with Him a part all our actions.
In our second reading today St. Paul referred to the heart as well. He exhorted the Thessalonians and all Christians, including ourselves, to seek the Lord’s help so as to increase and abound in love for all in order to strengthen one’s heart. And all of this effort, St. Paul says, will help to make us blameless in holiness before God when Jesus does return to gather us for our heavenly destiny. St. Paul reminds us that our relationship with the Lord, our relationship with Jesus Christ, is to be the source of increase in our ability to love. We are not supposed to be standing still in the efforts of love and holiness. We should be trying to do and be better.
The key to vigilance for the Lord’s final coming, is attentiveness to the way He is present to us since coming the first time. Our invoking His presence through our prayer, our worship, our study and our charitable actions that keeps us vigilant. Advent is the time to review just how much our attending to and seeking the Lord’s presence is a part of our daily routine. The more decisive and ordered and consistent we are in celebrating the active presence of Jesus, the more we will be able to stay on track even when tempted to be self-serving, or self-indulgent in our daily choices, or simply so caught up in our daily anxieties that we slack off in the effort to keep our relationship with Jesus at the forefront.
Grateful that Jesus came into the world 2000 years ago, grateful that He has redeemed us and calls us to an eternal destiny with Him, grateful for His abiding presence in the Church, let us use Advent as our season to refine our vigilance for the presence of Jesus every day.
First Sunday of Advent