Jer. 33:14-16, 1 Thes 3:12-4:2, Lk 21:25-28, 34-36
Literally advent means arrival, emergence, appearance and expectation of somebody. Advent implies the coming of a notable person. The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming,” which is a translation of the Greek word parousia. Advent season focuses on expectation of the messiah. It does not only serve as an anticipation of Christ’s birth. This is part of the story, but there’s more to Advent. Scholars believe that during the 4th and 5th centuries in Spain and Gaul, Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians in preparation for the celebration of the Epiphany. During this season of preparation, Christians would spend 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting to prepare for this celebration; originally, there was little connection between Advent and Christmas. By the 6th century, however, it was tied to the coming of Christ. But the “coming” they had in mind was not Christ’s incarnation but his second coming as the judge of the world. It was not until the middle Ages that the Advent season was explicitly linked to Christ’s first coming at Christmas. Today, the season of Advent lasts for four Sundays leading up to Christmas, and serves as the beginning of the Church’s liturgical year.
So Advent is a season of preparation, with penance, and fasting to prepare us for the Coming of Christ in History (Christmas), the Coming of Christ in Mystery (the sacraments), and the Coming of Christ in Majesty (the Second Coming). This then calls for prayers and fasting to receive the Holy Eucharist anytime. We should also prayerfully examine our hearts in preparation to receive the Lord’s mercy in confession.
The Messianic Undertone
The promises of the first reading were spoken to address a dire situation. In the midst of this catastrophe, the prophet finally speaks words of promise. One of the chief tragedies of the Babylonian Exile, of course, was the end of the Davidic dynasty. For nearly four hundred years, descendants of David had occupied the throne of Judah, and God had promised that it would always be so (2 Samuel 7; Psalm 89). But the Babylonians destroyed David’s city, burned Solomon’s temple, and took David’s heirs into exile. The promises of God seemed to have come to an end. To a people devastated by loss, Jeremiah’s prophecy offered hope. “The house of David might be cut down, but God is able to bring life out of death. A branch will sprout”. Historically, of course, the Davidic line did not return to the throne, so passages like this (and its parallel, Jeremiah 23:5-6), were in time interpreted to be speaking about the coming ideal ruler, the Messiah. That is certainly the reason this passage is one of the lectionary readings for the first Sunday in Advent. The descendant of David who will “execute justice and righteousness in the land” is the one for whom we wait in this Advent season. And his salvation encompasses not just Judah and Jerusalem, but the whole world. So advent reminds of the emergence of the messiah who is coming to save his people.
The visit of any notable person to a particular place also requires certain moments of preparation from those to be visited, so in the second reading Paul while advising his converts in Macedonia, exhorts us to live the life that God wants us to live, because Jesus is returning to judge the living and the dead. Paul made it explicit the best life required of us at this present moment of waiting is the life filled with genuine love and holiness.
Secondly, the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple sparked a big crisis of faith for the early Christians. Because the expected end of the world did not come with it, many of them gave up altogether their belief in the Second Coming of Christ. They quickly settled for earthly pleasures, like eating and drinking, and gave in to moral laxity. To address their needs, Luke added the second half of today’s gospel, exhorting them to be on their guard so as not to be weighed down with “dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life” (21:34).
Jesus speaks of this second coming 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…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” (Lk 21:25-28). With these signs, Jesus calls us to “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” (Lk 21:36).
The preparation of Christ’s coming is not a time for worldly enjoyment, incessant drinking of wine, clubbing, partying pursuing of wealth, kidnapping, robbery etc which have characterized our festive seasons, but a time of deep reflection and internal renewal of ourselves. It is a time to be awake and pray, keeping virgil, awaiting the coming of the saving messiah. Advent is a time to prepare not just outwardly, building of houses, preparation of series of celebration etc no. This is a time to go back to God; it is time to welcome Jesus again in your heart.
Finally it is good to remind us of another coming which we tend to forget, namely, his daily coming in the ordinary events, people in our lives and through the sacraments. Luke’s emphasis is that we should be vigilant to recognize and welcome the Lord who comes to us through events we least expect. If we are preparing for the Lord’s coming, it is a time to look into the story of our daily lives and make a change. Expect him all the times. The time is not tomorrow, next tomorrow, next four weeks. The time is NOW.
Fr. Sanctus Mario www.sanctusmario.com