First Sunday of Advent - Cycle C
1st Reading: Jeremiah 33:14-16
Responsorial Psalm: 25: 4-5, 8-9, 10, 14
2nd Reading: 1 Thessalonians 3:12 – 4:2
Gospel: Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36
Advent is the season of the expectation of Christ, and it is somewhat penitential in tone and calls (is calling) us to a time of redemption. You can tell by the tone in this gospel and the return of the color purple. It is about 4 weeks long. The first 2 weeks or so focus on Jesus’ final coming as Lord and judge and the last 2 weeks anticipate His coming in history, His birth. The 3rd Sunday of Advent (pink candle) gives us a break and allows us to joyfully express the anticipation of the season. I like to think of Advent as “Lite Lent” It is preparatory and penitential, but shorter and with a break in the middle for some celebrating.
The first gospel we hear for the new liturgical year is a shocker and very alarming. Signs in the heavens and earth… horror after horror terrorizing the planet and the end of an age. If we stop and think about it, this description would fit what’s going on in various parts of the world today with political upheaval and natural disasters. The underlying message is the same for us today as it was for Luke’s audience, “Be alert, do not lose hope; hold tight to your faith.” The worst thing we can do is to give into despair in the face of tragedy.
Even though we read the gospel of Luke consecutively throughout most of the liturgical year during Ordinary Time, we fast forward to the latter part of the gospel for this reading on the 1st Sunday of Advent. In verse 5 of this chapter, someone comments on how beautifully the temple is adorned and Jesus overhears this conversation and speaks prophetically that one day not a temple stone will be left standing. Obviously, everyone wondered when such a thing would take place. So Jesus uses this opportunity to place the discussion in a much larger setting with far greater implications.
Chapter 21 deals with two primary issues: the need to give witness to Christ in the face of impending religious persecution and the necessity of persevering while waiting for His return. The Church following Jesus’ resurrection will be strengthened in the face of persecution. People need not fear. The Holy Spirit provides the necessary power to withstand the persecution they will face as they are dragged through the synagogue and civilian courts for their beliefs just as we are strengthened to endure our persecutions today. They may be destroyed bodily, but everlasting life is the reward for their faithfulness, just as it is our reward to come.
Another concern for Luke in this reading is perseverance. Earlier in the gospel, the disciples hear that they are to weigh their options before jumping with both feet into the rigors of discipleship. Think back to your Confirmation; the moment you made your adult decision to follow Jesus. You had an opportunity to discern the price of discipleship and you chose to jump in with both feet. It is challenging and strenuous and will require great stamina and endurance. Now that the disciples made the commitment, they need to be prepared at all times. Now that you’ve made the commitment, you need to be prepared at all times as well. Advent and Christmas are both about the “comings” (the advents) of Jesus: The first as the king of glory at the end of history as well as the babe of Bethlehem.
But in the midst of this scary gospel, we are called to hope. We realize the fact that the world is imperfect, but we are not to be discouraged. We are called to see the imperfection around us as an opportunity for redemption; for proving over and over again that the love God has for the world will triumph. Joseph Campbell said it best when he asserted that the greatest human quest is “to participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.” This is the kind of Christian hope Jesus is calling us to celebrate during this Advent.
When Ed Koch was mayor of New York City, he used to say the most spiritual experience he had was when he attended the Catholic funerals for the city policemen and firemen. When asked why by a reporter Koch answered, “It’s that hymn they always sing…BE NOT AFRAID.” Throughout the scriptures God is telling us over and over again, “Be not afraid.” This gospel does not deny fears, it simply tells us how to deal with them. Scholars call this special form of speech in the Bible a “salvation oracle.” In other words, in the midst of desperate and fearful situations, God’s presence springs abruptly. God’s “fear not” is an amazing announcement that salvation is not what we thought it was because God is present where we thought God would never be.
“Fear not!” God tells Abraham. “I am your shield.” (Genesis 15:1)
“Fear not!” God tells Isaiah. “I have called you by name; you are mine.”
“Do not be afraid” the angels tell the shepherds. “For today in the city of David a
savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)
“Do not be afraid” the Easter angel proclaims, “I know that you are seeking
Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he
said.” (Matthew 28:5-6)
Yes, we all need to take the words of Jesus to heart this Advent; to watch, to pray and not to overindulge. But we must do all this in new ways, in more imaginative ways so that we can turn this season of fear into a season of hope.
The Lord is coming indeed, in ways we could never imagine.
1. How do you feel about endings? What about beginnings?
2. Did you try to stop the ending? Or the beginning? Why or why not?
3. Was your life better or worse because of the ending or the beginning?
4. To whom did you turn in those times? Why?
5. Were there signs of the coming of this experience or not?
6. What does it mean to be spiritually alert?
7. How can you prepare for the coming of Christ, both at Christmas and at the end of time?
8. In what ways will the unexpected second coming of Christ change your living?
9. As you think about the second coming of Christ, what do you want to change about your life?
10. Where do you find hope and comfort in the gospel passage?