1st. Sunday of Advent (A)
(Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:37-44)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, our Gospel reading is indeed suited to the Advent season of anticipation and expectation, but there Jesus is anticipating something much more solemn than the subject of our traditional Christmas celebration: preparations for which are usually centred on choosing gifts, arranging festive gatherings of family and friends, and planning meals of more pleasing, ample, and diverse character than those for normal daily sustenance.
Note this, dear People of God, that our three readings today – from the prophet Isaiah, St. Paul, and the Gospel of St. Matthew, are comprehensive in the fulness of their Christian anticipation:
Isaiah spoke of the initial awareness of Christ’s coming, and the desirability, the need, to seek out and learn from, His saving teaching:
Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may instruct us in His ways, for from Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem;
then we heard St. Paul in his letter to the Romans telling the Christians of Rome -- the capital of the Empire and the world’s sin -- to bear adult witness to, to ‘put on’, Christ:
Salvation is nearer than when we first believed, let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ;
and finally, Our Blessed Lord Himself in our Gospel reading went yet further exhorting His disciples to persevere to the very end, to the ultimate climax of human life and Christian hope and expectation:
Stand erect and pray that you have the strength to stand before the Son of Man coming with power and great glory.
Dear People of God, let us, as children, always be ready and eager to learn about Jesus our Friend; let us, as committed disciples witness to and fight with Christ Jesus, our Guide and Protector, against sin in us and in our world; and let us pray that, at the end, we – as those who have long loved Him -- may have unshakeable confidence and trust in Jesus the Lord and Judge of all mankind and the Saviour of all His true disciples.
During Advent, traditional Catholics preparing to celebrate the birth of Our Lord Jesus in Bethlehem, commonly try to cast their thoughts back nearly 2000 years while rejoicing whole-heartedly in their present-day awareness and experience of the joys and blessings 2000 years of Christian faith and fulfilment have brought to the world and their own personal and family lives. As modern Christians however, up to date indeed as regards worldly things demanding their attention, they are not necessarily up to standard for the appropriate expression of the fullness of authentic Catholic appreciation, worship, and love of God. They do rightly want to teach their children about Jesus and to give God heartfelt thanks for the coming among us of His Son, born of the Immaculate Virgin Mary of Nazareth for our salvation; however, they tend to think only of going back to the shepherds, the angels, the crib, and the Magi, all long cherished and well remembered.
A closely related and like fault can to be seen frequently with indulgent grand-parents: they love their grandchildren and want to make and to see them happy, and so they often lower themselves down to a childish level of behaviour for immediate companionship and joy; too rarely do they seek to raise the children up -- even very gently -- towards more adult appreciations. To try to lift up the mind of a child can be a risky business many prefer not to take; they find it so much easier for themselves to behave as a child with the children, winning immediate and joyful laughter all round and -- as a very acceptable bonus -- they get praise from all who are watching and admiring their easy rapport with their grandchildren!
Now that is what happens not only at home and in the family but also with the overall Catholic and Christian use of the Advent preparation: ‘just delight in the Infant Child, with spontaneous childish delight which delights parents as well; don’t spoil it by trying to somehow include a thought about something more serious and demanding, least of all any thoughts of Second and final Coming. After all, Advent is not Lent!
That of course is very true, Advent is not Lent. Nevertheless, Advent does bear a marked likeness to Lent in so far as both are times of expectation, preparing for an ever-more intimate sharing with Jesus in our appreciation of and co-operation with His work of salvation; and Advent, preparing to celebrate the very beginning of Christianity, also looks forward to all that is Christian, which means that it is the most comprehensively anticipatory, expectant, of all the liturgical seasons, as Mother Church’s choice of readings for today shows. Indeed, Advent would tell us most insistently that Christianity is, essentially, a faith that is ever looking-forward in anticipation, and with humble, joyful expectation, to all the ever-greater blessings and glory Jesus has promised that God, His Father, is preparing for us as His prospective adopted sons and daughters.
ADVENT EXPECTATION calls for adults to encourage and teach their children how to find and express joy in the first coming of Jesus as a child of Mary and as their special Friend and also to help them begin to learn and express love for Jesus, come to be with them as their constant Guide and sure Protector. And that initial, glowing, love for Jesus should itself then be gently sign-posted – yes, by parents and grand-parents! -- for later awareness of Him as Lord and Saviour over the years of deepening human maturity leading to full-blown Catholic commitment and Christian witness to Jesus Christ, Son of God made Son of Man for our salvation.
And those adult years of Christian maturity --- years of loving service through suffering and joy, years of witness to well-known and understood faith and to truths of faith known only partially though promised a most glorious fulfilment --- those years of full discipleship, enable the Spirit of God to bring to the mind for such disciples thoughts, considerations, and even a measure of EXPECTATION of the Second, most public and indeed Universal, Coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ. When? We do not know, but we do know with certitude that we ourselves will experience an authentic foretaste of that Cosmic Coming at the moment of our own death to the world and all that passes: a moment, the occasion, of our entry into the eternity of God’s infinite mercy, Jesus’ saving sacrifice, and the Holy Spirit’s life-giving embrace of love, or else of the dread doom of reckoning and retribution for those who deliberately rejected or ignored the Father’s will to save, and so crucified the Saviour He actually sent to live with and die for us.
As it was in the days of Noah so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left. Therefore, stay awake for you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: you must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.
Jesus used ‘Son of Man’ when speaking of Himself as endowed with a most solemn and sublime mission, whereas ‘your Lord’ is much more personal and intimate, and I think we can legitimately see there the motive for Catholic adults’ adult celebration of Christmas harmonizing so well with the celebrations they share with their children. The children’s joyful welcoming of Jesus is, as it were, the first flowering of their family’s Catholic faith; the parents’ own humble awareness and hopeful expectation of Jesus’ constantly renewed coming into their own hearts and minds are more mature and more beautiful blossoms of the same Catholic and Christmas faith. However, the Second and universally public Coming-of-the-Son-of-Man, will herald the ultimate fulfilment of all their hopes and aspirations, which, having arisen from Jesus’ saving Life, Death, Resurrection and Ascension, now evoke the utmost love and glory for His Most Holy Name that saved mankind can offer.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Advent is meant to help both parents and children prepare more fully for truly Catholic-and-Christian Christmas joy! Advent invites and urges us all to become more truly children of God; let us, therefore, close our present considerations by recalling today’s Alleluia antiphon:
Show us Lord Your love; and grant us Your salvation!