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Reflections for the I Sunday of Advent

Fr. Antony Kadavil reflects and comments on the readings at Mass for the first Sunday in Advent. He says that Advent is a time of waiting for Jesus coming in our lives.

Central theme: Advent is a time of waiting for Christ, allowing Jesus to be reborn in our lives. It is also a time   for purifying our hearts by repentance and for renewing our lives by reflecting on and experiencing the several comings (advents) of Christ into our lives.  Besides his first coming at his birth, Jesus comes to our lives through the Sacraments (especially the Eucharist), through the Word of God, through the worshiping community, at the moment of our death and, finally, in his Second Coming to judge the world.

Homily starter anecdote: #1: Missing the signal! In its day, the Titanic was the world's largest ship, weighing 46,328 tons, and it was considered unsinkable. Yet, late during the night of April 14-15, 1912, the unthinkable happened to the unsinkable. Near midnight, the great Titanic struck an iceberg, ripping a three-hundred-foot hole through five of its sixteen watertight compartments. It sank in two and a half hours killing 1,513 people. Before the Titanic sank, warning after warning had been sent to tell the crew that they were speeding into an ice field, but the messages were ignored. In fact, when a nearby ship sent an urgent warning, the Titanic was talking to Cape Race about the time the chauffeurs were to meet arriving passengers at the dock in New York, and what dinner menus were to be ready. Preoccupied with the trivia, the Titanic responded to the warning, "Shut up. I am talking to Cape Race. You are jamming my signals!" Why did so many die that night? Perhaps the crew disregarded the danger of the weather; there were not enough lifeboats on board; and the radio operator of nearbyCalifornia was off duty; perhaps those responsible did not heed the warnings; they were preoccupied with other things! -Sometimes we believe that our 'ship' is unsinkable, our life is all well planned, and the unthinkable can never happen to us. We need to read the signs of the times, we need to pay attention to the warning signals. But if we are preoccupied with the trivial things of life we will miss the most important things till it is too late. The First Sunday of Advent gives us the warning to be watchful, waiting and prepared. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)

Scripture lessons summarized: In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah waits and hopes for an ideal descendant of King David who will bring security, peace and justice to God’s people.  Christians believe that Jeremiah’s waiting and hoping were fulfilled in Jesus.  Jeremiah assures us that the Lord our justice will fulfill His promises, and, hence, we need not be afraid in spite of the frightening events and moral degradation all around.  The Psalmist expresses the central idea of patient, vigilant and prayerful waiting for the Lord in today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 25), asking Him to make known His ways to us, guide us, and teach us.  In the second reading, Paul gives instructions about how Christians should conduct themselves as they wait for “the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His holy ones." We are advised to "strengthen our hearts in holiness" (3:13) and "abound in love for one another" (3:12).  In today’s Gospel, Jesus prophesies the signs and portents that will accompany his Second Coming and encourages us to be expectant, optimistic, vigilant and well-prepared: “When these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand” (Luke 21:28).  Jesus wants us to face the future with confidence in God’s providence.

 First reading: Jer 33:14-16, explained: Jeremiah, the prophet of hope, introduces us this year to our season of Advent.  He was from a priestly family and was born in a little village called Anathoth, close to Jerusalem.  Josiah, who was king (640-609 BC), in Judah in those days, was a God-fearing man.  But he was killed in a battle at Megiddo by the invading Egyptians who were attacking the Assyrians (2 Kings 23:29-30; 2Chron 35:20-24). A later king of Judah, Zedekiah (598-587 BC), swore allegiance in the Name of the Lord God, to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in return for his life and continued to rule in Jerusalem, then rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar (2Chron 36:13). He faced an attack by the Babylonian (Chaldean) army which surrounded Jerusalem.  The king ignored God’s advice, given through Jeremiah, to surrender and save the town and its people, and he concealed the Lord God’s message from his generals (Jeremiah 38: 17-27).  As a result, the Babylonians took Zedekiah prisoner (blinding him after he had watched the execution of his sons), captured and looted the city, burned the Temple down, and sent the healthy Jews into exile leaving only some poor people (2 Kings 25:1-21; 36:17-21; Jeremiah 38: 28–-39:10). Despite all this, Jeremiah conveyed words of hope from God to the people in exile: "I WILL BE WITH YOU." God says through the prophet that He will fulfill this promise by raising up a “just shoot,” a righteous offspring of David, who will rule Israel in justice (see 2 Samuel 7:16Jeremiah 33:17Psalm 89:4-527-38).  Jeremiah told the people that they would return to see their old city and their Temple again, and that their priests would return to their Temple duties (Jeremiah 33:17ff).  Thus, through Jeremiah, the Lord God, speaking His inspiring words at such a tragic moment, kindled hope and optimism in the people.  What does it mean to raise up for David a just shoot?  David was this people's first great king, and he became the standard by which subsequent kings were measured.  "Shoot" is an image from farming or gardening, meaning a young growth from a mature plant.  These people believed their fortunes were linked to the justice of their king.  So, for them, a “just shoot for David” would have meant a new king, descended from David, whose justice would have positive effects among the people, and who would then get a new name: "The Lord our justice."  

Second Reading, 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2, explained: Readings in early Advent always carry forward from the last Sundays of the previous liturgical year the theme of Jesus' coming again. At the time Saint Paul wrote to the Thessalonians (rather early in his apostolic career), he and they believed Jesus was to return soon.  Jesus’ coming would mean the end of history and the judgment of all peoples.   But some Thessalonian Christians began to doubt the promise of Christ’s second Coming because it was indefinitely delayed. Hence Paul gave them some clarification, emphasizing proper behavior in this part of his letter.  "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.”  Paul tells them that what they do while they’re waiting is just as important as the event for which they’re waiting.  Hence, he prays for their transformation.  He prays that they, and we, will abound in love and that our hearts will be strengthened.

 Gospel exegesis: Two versions of the end time events: Today we move from the year of Mark (B) to the year of Luke (C).  In fact, today's Gospel is Luke's version of the Gospel we read two weeks ago from Mark.  Luke seems to be the first evangelist who believed that everyone in his community would die a natural death before Jesus triumphantly returned in the Parousia or Second Coming.   Still, many years after Mark’s Gospel, Luke wrote about the Parousia.  Comparing Mark 13:24-32 which we read two Sundays ago with Luke 21:25ff, which we read today, we note that Luke has reduced the scope of the spectacular celestial events of the Last Days and has omitted Mark’s description of the Son of Man.  The reason for these changes may lie in the events filling the years between Mark’s Gospel (AD 69), and Luke’s work (AD 80).  Mark wrote his Gospel sometime before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 when the Jewish Christians believed that the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple would coincide with the end of the world and the second coming of Jesus.  But when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed, the world did not end.  Perhaps taking this into account, Luke, completing his Gospel in A.D. 80, dissociated the destruction of the Temple from Jesus’ prediction of the end of the world. In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus warns us to keep watch for his return in glory. He draws on Old Testament images of chaos and instability – turmoil in the heavens (see Isaiah 13:11,13;  Ezekiel 32:7-8Joel 2:10); roaring seas (see Isaiah 5:3017:12); distress among the nations (see Isaiah 8:22; 14:25) and terrified people (see Isaiah 13:6-11).

The context: The fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple created a major crisis of Faith for the early Christians.  Since the expected end of the world did not come, many Christians gave up their belief in the Second Coming of Christ, abandoned their Faith and began living lives of moral laxity.  It may have been in order to address these needs that Luke continued with the second half of today's Gospel, Jesus' exhortation to all of His disciples, then and now, to be on their guard against“dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life(21:34).

Jesus’ warning: Neither Paul nor the evangelists were preparing their readers for Christmas.  Instead, they were helping these Christians to boost their spirits while they waited for Jesus to accomplish things in their lives that would give them a share in His risen life.  Luke advised his readers on how they were to wait and prepare for the Lord in their present situation of indefinitely waiting for Christ’s second coming. They had to shift their attention and energies from future fulfillment to presentservice and commitment. They must prepare themselves by watchfulness and prayerfulness. That’s why, after reminding his community about the signs which would precede Jesus' Second Coming, Luke gives them Jesus’ warning: "Be on guard lest your spirits become bloated with indulgence and drunkenness and worldly cares.  Pray constantly for the strength to escape whatever is in prospect and to stand secure before the Son of Man."  Since our own transformation is an ongoing process, we move yearly through the liturgical celebration of the mystery of our salvation.  While Advent is set aside to commemorate Jesus’ coming in the flesh as well as his final coming in glory, it is also a time for us to open ourselves to the Lord’s coming into our lives and our world today.  In order to do this, we must read the signs of the times and adjust our lives accordingly. Jesus also gives us the assurance that no matter what terrors the future holds, he will be present, caring for his followers.

Life messages: 1) We need to prepare ourselves for Christ’s second coming by allowing him to be reborn daily in our lives.  Advent is the time for us to make this preparation by repenting for our sins, by renewing our lives through prayer and penance and by sharing our blessings with others.  Advent also provides an opportunity for us to check for what needs to be put right in our lives, to see how we have failed, and to assess the ways in which we can do better.  Let us remember the words of Alexander Pope: ‘What does it profit me if Jesus is reborn in thousands of cribs all over the world and not reborn in my heart?”  Jesus must be reborn in our hearts and lives, during this season of Advent and every day of our lives, in our love, kindness, mercy and forgiveness.  Then only will we be able to give people his hope by caring for those in need, give them God’s peace by turning the other cheek when we are provoked, give them His love by encouraging those who are feeling sad or tired, and give them His joy by encouraging and helping those who feel at the end of their strength, showing them that we care and that God cares as well.  When, with His grace, we do these kinds of things we will receive hope, peace, love, and joy in return.  Then we will know that when the King, our Lord Jesus, returns on the clouds of glory, we will be ready for Him.

29 November 2018, 10:12