Dec 2, 2018: 1st Sunday of Advent (C)

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Introduction to Advent

The first Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of the Church’s liturgical year. Through the yearly cycle of readings, we celebrate the whole mystery of Christ, beginning with his incarnation and ending with Pentecost and the expectation of his second coming.

The General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar describes Advent in this way:

Advent has a twofold character: as a season to prepare for Christmas when Christ’s first coming to us is remembered; as a season when that remembrance directs the mind and heart to await Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time. Advent is thus a period for devout and joyful expectation (no. 39).

During Advent, both the content of the readings and the violet vestments worn by the clergy (with rose as an option on the 3rd Sunday) speak to the penitential aspect of the season. The Gloria is omitted, as during Lent, but for a somewhat different reason, as the official commentary on the revised Calendar notes: “so that on Christmas night the song of the angels may ring out anew in all its freshness.” Unlike Lent, however, the Alleluia is retained before the Gospel as a clear note of joyful expectation.

Advent begins on the Sunday falling on or closest to November 30th and ends at Christmas, encompassing four Sundays.

1st Reading – Jeremiah 33:14-16

The days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will fulfill the promise
I made to the house of Israel and Judah.
In those days, in that time,
I 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.”

The Old Testament readings during Advent are prophecies about the Messiah and the Messianic age.

In today’s first reading, the prophet Jeremiah announces that God will fulfill his promise of redemption: a Davidic ruler will be raised up and the nation will be secure.

The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made

With prophetic authority, Jeremiah proclaims that the promise of God will be fulfilled.  But God made many promises to his favored people – to which is he referring?

to the house of Israel and Judah.

Recall that after King Solomon’s death, the kingdom had split into two.  Mention of both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah indicates the inclusive nature of the promised redemption.

In those days, in that time, I will raise up for David a just shoot;

A shoot, new life springing from previous life, will be raised up for the Davidic house.

The promised shoot probably comes from the royal line, but note that it states that it is also for the monarchy.  This might suggest that the Davidic monarchy will have another opportunity to be the means through which God will effect redemption.

he shall do what is right and just in the land. 

Righteousness and justice are qualities associated with an anointed ruler (see Isaiah 9:6).

In those days Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure;

Note that both Judah, a political entity, and Jerusalem, the religious center of Judaism, are mentioned.  When the promised is fulfilled, both the political and religious aspects of the nation will be redeemed.

The promise safety and security in the future indicates that the people were not safe and secure at the time of the proclamation.  In fact, Jeremiah wrote at a time of turmoil.  He is speaking words of high hope to a people in need.

this is what they shall call her: “The LORD our justice.”

Jerusalem is given a new name: “The LORD our justice.”  The name Jerusalem means “foundation of peace.”  The giving of this new name is an implied call to the people to recommit to the Lord.

2nd Reading – 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2

Brothers and sisters:
May the Lord make you increase and abound in love
for one another and for all,
just as we have for you,
so as to strengthen your hearts,
to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father
at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. Amen.

Finally, brothers and sisters,
we earnestly ask and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that,
as you received from us
how you should conduct yourselves to please God
and as you are conducting yourselves
you do so even more.
For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.

For the first three weeks of Advent, the second readings help us interpret the meaning of the mystery of Christ and provide guidelines for how we are to behave while we await his second coming.

In today’s reading, Paul urges us to perfect ourselves in preparation for our meeting Jesus.

Brothers and sisters: May the Lord make you increase and abound

The first part of this reading is a kind of wish-prayer.  The verbs are in the optative form (expressing a wish or hope) rather than the imperative form (issuing a command).

Paul is expressing desire for the spiritual growth of the believers in the Thessalonian community.

in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you,

The wish is for their love to be both communal (for one another) and universal (for all).

so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.

At the time of this writing, Paul believed that the second coming would occur within his lifetime.  He desires a life of love for the believers so that when they appear before God, they will be found blameless.  The second coming, in his view, is an incentive to righteous living.

Amen.

An affirmation of the truth of what has been written.

“This is a proof of superabundant love, that he not only prays for them by himself but even inserts his prayer in his epistles. Paul’s prayers demonstrate a fervent soul unable to restrain his love. The mention of his prayers also proves that Paul and Silvanus’ failure to visit them was not voluntary nor the result of indolence. It is as though Paul said: May God Himself shorten the trials that constantly distract us, so that we may come directly to you. ‘May the Lord make you to increase and abound.’” Do you see the unrestrained madness of love that is shown by these words? [Saint John Chrysostom (A. D. 398-404), Homilies on the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, 4]

Finally, brothers and sisters, we earnestly ask and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that, as you received from us how you should conduct yourselves to please God

The second section of the reading is an exhortation to the Thessalonians to conduct themselves according to the Christian standards they’ve been given.

The verb for “conduct yourselves” is peripatéō, or “walk” ; in other words, walk the right path.  Obedience to God is the goal.

and as you are conducting yourselves you do so even more.

Earlier he expressed the hope that they mature in their capacity to love.  Here he urges them to advance along the “paths” of righteous living.  Both lead to being found blameless at Jesus’ second coming.

For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.

The instructions are being given on the authority of Jesus himself.

Gospel – Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

Jesus said to his disciples:
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars,
and on earth nations will be in dismay,
perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.
People will die of fright
in anticipation of what is coming upon 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.
But when these signs begin to happen,
stand erect and raise your heads
because your redemption is at hand.

“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy
from carousing and drunkenness
and the anxieties of daily life,
and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.
For that day will assault everyone
who lives on the face of the earth.
Be vigilant at all times
and pray that you have the strength
to escape the tribulations that are imminent
and to stand before the Son of Man.”

The start of a new liturgical year also marks the transition from one lectionary cycle (A, B, or C) to the next. Today we begin Cycle C, during which the Gospel of Luke is featured prominently.

Each year on the first Sunday of Advent, the gospel that the Church proclaims is not about Jesus’ coming as a babe in Bethlehem, but about Jesus’ coming as the Son of Man. We are being urged not to simply remember the birth of Jesus many years ago, but to prepare today for the coming of Jesus at the end of time.

Today’s gospel reading launches our Advent season with an apocalyptic scene.  As startling as the description of these events may be, the upheavals described are really signs that portend our eventual redemption.

We heard the parallel gospel from Mark two weeks ago. Jesus is giving his final teachings to the apostles just before his passion begins.

Jesus said to His disciples: “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

The kind of cosmic disorder described calls to mind the primordial chaos from which God brought order in the creation narrative (Genesis 1:1-10), as well as the destruction in the time of Noah, from which God brought order anew (Genesis 7:12, 9:9-11).

It’s important to remember that the Bible does not teach science, and diverse biblical images of the end-times should not be interpreted literally.  These images are probably intended less as predictions of actual historical events and more as a metaphorical description of the end of one age and the birth of another.

And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 

A reference to Daniel 7:13-14, this Son of Man who receives dominion, glory, and kingship from God was long associated with the messianic tradition.

But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.

Despite those who have died of fright, Christians should stand erect with confidence and hope.  For those who have been faithful, this is the advent of the age of fulfillment — not a time of punishment.

“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth.

Because the timing of his second coming is unknown, Jesus exhorts believers to be alert.

Luke’s gospel generally emphasizes the joyful aspects of God made manifest in Jesus, but here Jesus is concerned with negative behaviors.  His followers must avoid any kind of distractions that might jeopardize their watchfulness, from carousing and drunkenness to simply becoming preoccupied with the anxieties of daily life.

Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Although the second coming will be a day of joyous salvation for the faithful, it is ominous and threatening to all because no one knows when it will happen.

This is important, as it acknowledges that we are all subject to human weakness.  Even the faithful could fall away in the face of overwhelming afflictions.  Consequently, everyone must be vigilant at all times and pray for strength to endure.

Despite the disconcerting description of the end of the world, the selection of this gospel reading for today is intended to reassure the faithful that God’s promised salvation will indeed come to pass. It is not a question of if, but merely of when, the Son of Man will return in glory. With this assurance in mind, disciples are to remain alert and vigilant, calm and sober, giving in neither to despair nor to frenzied activism, keeping hope burning brightly through prayer and purposeful action.

Advent is not simply a season to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth; rather it is a season to prepare for the coming of the Lord into our daily lives. As we read this passage, we can tell by our reaction whether we look forward with joy or dread to the coming of the Son of Man.

Connections and Themes

  • The readings on the first Sunday of Advent set the tone for our reflections throughout the season.  It is a time of great anticipation, when we reflect on the wondrous fact that through Christ, God has entered world history and became part of our existence.
  • Today’s readings are filled with promises, which provide hope to people in need of peace and fulfillment.
    • First Reading: God promises that a descendant of David would establish justice.
    • Second Reading: Paul points to the promise that the path of generous love and righteous living leads to salvation.
    • Gospel: Jesus promises that the coming of the Son of Man will result in redemption rather than destruction.
  • Our Advent vigilance is a response to a personal Presence that strengthens our hearts to “be blameless in holiness before our God.”  We spend our Advent with the desire to conduct ourselves in a way that pleases God because “the friendship of the Lord” (from the responsorial psalm) moves us to want to rise above the “anxieties of daily life.”
  • When the just shoot of David comes, he brings justice.  When we stand before the Lord with hearts filled with love and lives lived righteously, we are found blameless.  When the Son of Man comes, we are redeemed.  Rather than fearing this day, we stand erect and raise our heads, because this is the day when the love, providence, mercy, and forgiveness of God are made manifest.
  • Luke and Paul both urge believers to not only look back on what Christ has done for them, but to live with an eye toward the future.  Christians should shape their faith in terms of hope as well as memories.
  • Waiting in joyful hope is not a life of passive anticipation, it is one of active discipline.  Our goal is to be rooted in love and blameless in our holiness.  In so doing, we make present the Lord who is to come.  We are summoned to live in the tension between the “already” (Christ’s salvific death and resurrection) and the “not yet” (his second coming).
  • Advent teaches us that even in the face of suffering and death, we must never let hope die, and that by expressing our hope by way of love for one another, we will create a portion of the future we have been promised.
  • This way of life is simple, but profound.  It doesn’t require unusual behavior, but it requires us to live unusually well.

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