Sunday, December 2, 2012

Scripture Readings: First Sunday of Advent

1st Reading: Jeremiah 33:14-16

        Behold the days come, says the Lord, that I will perform the good word that I have spoken to the house of Israel, and to the house of Juda. In those days, and at that time, I will make the bud of justice to spring forth unto David, and he shall do judgment and justice in the earth. In those days shall Juda be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell securely: and this is the name that they shall call him, The Lord our just one.

2nd Reading: 1st Thessalonians 3:12-4:2
           And may the Lord multiply you and make you abound in charity towards one another and towards all men: as we do also towards you, to confirm your hearts without blame, in holiness, before God and our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, with all his saints. Amen.
              For the rest therefore, brethren, pray and beseech you in the Lord Jesus that, as you have received from us, how you ought to walk and to please God, so also you would walk, that you may abound the more. For you know what precepts I have given to you by the Lord Jesus.

Gospel: Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

And there shall be signs in the sun and in the moon and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, by reason of the confusion of the roaring of the sea, and of the waves: Men withering away for fear and expectation of what shall come upon the whole world. For the powers of heaven shall be moved. And then they shall see the Son of man coming in a cloud, with great power and majesty. But when these things begin to come to pass, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is at hand.

And take heed to yourselves, lest perhaps your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness and the cares of this life: and that day come upon you suddenly. For as a snare shall it come upon all that sit upon the face of the whole earth. Watch, therefore, praying at all times, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that are to come and to stand before the Son of man.

            So begins another Church year. Uh, for those who are unaware, the Catholic Church has its own calendar for liturgical purposes, which begins with the first Sunday of Advent (i.e. today).
             Our fist Gospel reading of the Advent season is a rather surprising one; an apocalyptic warning by Jesus of the signs of the end of the world, which will be so terrible that men will die of fright in response.
           At least, that’s what He seems to be saying here.
             Personally, though, I think what Jesus is talking about here is actually something more prosaic than the apocalypse. I think the way we are meant to take His words is in regards to our own lives more than the life of the whole world. In other words, what we have here is a ‘Memento Mori’ moment; Jesus is reminding us to be mindful of the fact that we will all meet Him and will all be obliged to render an account of ourselves. Hence the warnings against being overly concerned or distracted by the cares and pleasures of this world, and the warning that it will come upon “all that sit upon the face of the Earth.”
            This also links in with the reading from St. Paul, in which he beseeches the Thessalonians to live their lives in accordance with God’s will and the teachings that Paul has given them.
            Now, why do we open Advent with these particular readings?
             Advent is all about preparing for the coming of Jesus into the world. The first reading from Jeremiah, predicting the coming of the Just One, the heir of David, is quite clear on this point. But the meaning of Advent isn’t just to recall the historical coming of Jesus into the world; it’s also a chance to prepare a place for Him in our own lives.
           The first step to mastering any art or discipline to get a grip on the basics: scales, vocabulary, grammar, etc.  Likewise, the first step to following Jesus is, simply, to make an effort: to be aware of what the situation is. Thus, the first words we hear from Jesus and Paul are pleas for mindfulness. The first step to welcoming Jesus into the world is to be aware of what Christ’s coming means.
           What it means will be discussed more thoroughly in the coming weeks, but for right now I would like to backtrack a little and point out another aspect of Christ’s words in today’s Gospel. He is describing a time when men will die of fright in the face of the signs and turmoil of the world, but to us who follow Him He says “look up and lift your heads, because your redemption is at hand.”
             Jesus is reminding us to not be afraid, no matter what is happening in the world, because as long as we follow Him, we have nothing to fear from the world. At the same time, however, He reminds us to remain alert and watchful, lest that day come upon us “like a snare.” We therefore have two seemingly contradictory ideas: be alert and on the lookout for danger, but at the same time do not be afraid.  

            What are we to make of this? Well, what we have here is a classic Catholic “both-and” statement: the acceptance and commitment to two seemingly contradictory ideas, by which we discover that they not only are not contradictory, but they are actually necessary for each other.          
            You see, it is that constant alertness that allows us to be unafraid. It is the fact that we follow Jesus, that we don’t ignore Him or get wrapped up in worldly affairs that allows us to be unafraid. If we weren’t so alert, we would become afraid for the simple reason that we would forget the very reason for our courage. Like so many other Christian ideas, it isn’t just a complicated spiritual concept; it’s simple commonsense.

Vive Christus Rex!

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