DECEMBER 2nd, 2018: FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
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.”
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.
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.”
One of the problems with looking forward to celebrating Christmas in a month is that we often spend a lot of that period looking backward instead of forward. We zero in on past Christmases, trying to replicate the best of them. Without remembering such ideal celebrations, Christmas wouldn’t have its proper meaning.
Yet considering it was more than three or four centuries before the feast of Christmas came into existence, that’s not the way Jesus’ earliest followers celebrated his entering their lives. They were never interested in just forming schmaltzy memories that they could conjure up every year.
Of course, their images of him were different from our own. Given their Jewish background, once his disciples understood him to be the long-awaited Messiah, he was burdened with the “baggage” attached to that title. For instance, as we hear in today’s Jeremiah passage, Jesus the Messiah will not only be the one bringing peace to the two Jewish nations of Israel and Judah, he’ll also do whatever’s just and right for everyone in the land; demonstrating, as a good Jew, how to have the proper relationships with God and those around us.
In the earliest Christian writing we possess – I Thessalonians – Paul couldn’t be clearer about those relationships. Having taken the unheard-of step of permitting non-Jews to follow Jesus without first becoming Jews, the Apostle can’t encourage his Gentile converts to include Jewish laws and culture in their following of the risen Christ. He can only insist on forming just relationships with Jesus and others. He has no better prayer for his community than, “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you . . . .” Jesus in our lives makes all the difference in our lives.
But his/her presence also changes the way we look at the future. Luke testifies to that phenomenon in today’s gospel pericope: the well-known “apocalyptic” section of his gospel. It’s significant that this type of literature was the most frequently employed genre in religious writings shortly before and after Jesus’ birth. Many would-be sacred authors spoke about the end of the world and the phenomena accompanying it, using esoteric, symbolic language to avoid being sued for breach of promise. Knowing how frequently this genre was utilized, it’s amazing only two biblical books – Daniel and Revelation - plus a chapter in each Synoptic gospel, were written in this style.
In some sense, in today’s passage Luke is only informing his community about one thing. Though many people, not only Christians, are awaiting the world’s imminent end, the evangelist only wants Jesus’ followers to know that when it finally happens Jesus will play an essential role. When this world as we know it goes down the tubes, followers of Jesus will experience “. . . the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”
But Luke is convinced we can’t go around with our heads in that cloud just waiting for Jesus’ arrival. There’s lots to do in the meantime. We can’t sit on our hands taking bets on the time of the Parousia, nor risk becoming “drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life . . . .”
If the world as we know it is going to end with all these distressing signs, we’ve got to keep in shape, else we’ll get bowled over. Staying vigilant will be our main occupation. Jesus’ first followers were always warned to get out of the past and appreciate the present and the future, no matter how comfortable and non-challenging their past was. Jesus’ coming always means there’s more to life than just memories.