1st Sunday of Advent (Fr. Francis)
Today we begin our yearly pilgrimage through the events of our history of salvation starting with the preparation for the birthday celebration of Jesus and ending with the reflection on his glorious “second coming” as judge at the end of the world. We are entering the Advent season. Advent means coming. We are invited to meditate on Jesus’ first coming in history as a baby in Bethlehem, his daily coming into our lives in mystery through the Sacraments, through the Bible and through the worshipping community and finally his Second Coming at the end of the world to reward the just and to punish the wicked. We see the traditional signs of Advent in our Church: violet vestments and hangings, dried flowers or plain green plants and the Advent wreath. These signs remind us that we must prepare for the rebirth of Jesus in our hearts and lives, enabling him to radiate his love, mercy, compassion and forgiveness around us.
When something is urgent, we act without delay. When the fire department receives a call, they send out trucks within seconds. When someone having a heart attack enters an emergency room, the doctors begin treating the patient immediately. When a priest gets a call in the middle of the night informing him that someone is close to death, he jumps out of bed and dashes to the person’s bedside to administer the Sacraments. A slow response in an urgent situation can have devastating consequences. If a first responder delays action, it could mean the loss of life. If a priest delays action, it could mean the death of a person without the grace and consolation of the Church’s Sacraments. Moreover, a rapid response to a critical situation is only possible when we are properly prepared. Without basic preparation, the firefighter, doctor, or priest, would be ill-equipped or even completely useless when the desperate call comes.
There is an urgency that characterizes the entirety of Jesus’s preaching. Jesus begins his active ministry by saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mt 4:17). Today, on this first Sunday of Advent, the urgency of Jesus’s message intensifies. Jesus says, “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come” (Mt 24:42).
Why this urgency on the First Sunday of Advent? During this great season of preparation, the Church places before us the two comings of Christ. In the days immediately preceding Christmas, the Church focuses her attention on the Mystery of Christ’s coming in the flesh. However, for the first two weeks of Advent, the Church asks us to meditate deeply on Jesus’s second glorious coming at the end of time. Contemplating the Lord’s second coming helps us to understand why Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem in the first place. The Word became flesh in the fullness of time to draw all things to Himself, bringing salvation to a world sick with sin. Though we were not all present in Bethlehem two millennia ago, men and women from all times and places will see Him face to face when he comes again at the end of time.
Jesus, the One who says, “surely I am coming soon” (Rev 22:20), warns that if we do not prepare our hearts for the coming of the Son of Man, we risk the same fate as those who were “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” (Mt 24:38) up until the day when the flood waters came and covered the earth. God warned Noah about the coming flood and told him what he needed to do to protect his life and the lives of his family members. Since Noah was attentive to God’s warning and obeyed the directions given to him, he and his family were saved, while all else perished. Those who make the proper preparations have the guarantee of the Lord’s protection, just as Noah and his family were preserved from harm in the ark.
Although God only warned Noah the righteous man about the flood, God’s Son Jesus came to announce the message of salvation to more than just one man and his family. Jesus’s powerful warning, “stay awake!” (Mt 24:42) is issued to the disciples and to all nations. As St. Augustine notes, “[Jesus] said “watch,” not only to those who heard Him speak at the time, but to those who came after them, and to us, and to all who shall be after us, until his second coming” (Augustine, Epistle 199, 3). He issues this warning — this urgent message — because He does not want to see anyone left behind. None of us who have heard the Word of God proclaimed can claim ignorance. The Lord has advised us, “you also must be prepared for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (Mt 24:44). Though we do not know the hour, we know that the Lord’s coming is imminent, and whether or not He comes again in the span of our lifetime, we will all be present at his second coming because, as we profess in the creed, “He will come again to judge the living and the dead” (Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed).
God gave Noah details about how the ark should be built. Jesus — Himself the Way and the Narrow Gate leading to salvation — has built for us a new ark, the Church. When we take refuge in this new ark, we are assured of safe passage to the shores of heaven. In this ark, the Lord Himself remains at the helm, teaching us through the Sacred Scriptures, and healing and nourishing us through the Sacraments.
The friends of the Lord, the saints, have a keen understanding of the urgency with which Jesus speaks. St. Paul reminds the Romans (and us) of Jesus’s urgent message. St. Paul says, “You know the time; it is the hour for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand” (Rom 13:11–12). The saints, always keeping the imminent coming of Christ in mind, persevere in a twofold way; they “throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light,” as St. Paul encourages. For St. Paul, to “put on the armor of light” (Rom 13:12) means to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 13:14) for Christ Himself is the Light of the World. In order to have the strength to “throw off the works of darkness” (Rom 13:12), we must be bathed in the Light that dispels all darkness, Christ our Light. The Prophet Isaiah, hundreds of years before, knew this as well and so urged his listeners: “let us walk in the light of the Lord” (Is 2:5).
No doubt, it is difficult for us to maintain a constant awareness of the Lord’s coming since we are always worried and anxious about the things of the world — our families, our friends, and our work. So, on this First Sunday of Advent we beg God the Father to help us to internalize the urgency of Jesus’s words. We ask the Father to grant us “the resolve to run forth to meet . . . Christ with righteous deeds at his coming” (Collect, First Sunday of Advent), and “to teach us . . . to love the things of heaven and to hold fast to what endures…even now, as we walk amid passing things” (Prayer after Communion, First Sunday of Advent). Just as a first responder must be prepared at all times for a life-or-death situation, we must prepare our souls now, because we do not want to be caught off guard when the urgent call comes — when Christ comes.
- God finally had had enough and decided to end the world. However, He wanted to warn the people. He decided to call the three most influential people of the world. He therefore summoned Donald Trump, Xi Jinping (President of China), and Bill Gates into one room and told them of His plan and asked them to go out and inform the world. President Trump immediately appeared on CNN news and told the U.S., “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that God congratulated me for standing for religious and moral principles. The bad news is that He is going to end the world and I won’t be able to win my second term and bring back full prosperity to our country.” Jiang Zemin went to the Communist network and told his people: “I have bad news and worse news. The bad news is that, despite what we have taught all these years, there IS a God. The worse news is that He is upset. He is about to end the world.” Bill Gates turned to the Internet and informed the world: “I have good news and better news… The good news is that God thinks I am one of the three most influential people on earth… The better news is that Microsoft need not upgrade its WINDOWS anymore.
- Search Google: One Sunday after Church, a mother was talking to her young daughter. She told her daughter that, according to the Bible, Jesus will return to earth someday. “When is he coming back?” the daughter asked. “I don’t know,” replied the mother. “Can’t you look it up on the Internet?” the little girl asked. [Jeff Totten, “The Lord’s Laughter,” Joyful Noiseletter (Jan. 2004), p. 2.]
Fr. A. Francis HGN