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Features \ Asia - Liturgical Reflections

1st Sunday of Advent – November 27, 2016

The First Sunday of Advent - RV

The First Sunday of Advent - RV

22/11/2016 12:52

Is 2:1-5; Rom 13:11-14; Mt 24:37-44

President John F. Kennedy was very fond of a particular story which he often used to close his speeches during his 1960 presidential campaign. It is the story of Colonel Davenport, Speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives back in the year 1789.  One day, while the House was in session, the sky of Hartford suddenly grew dark and gloomy. Some of the Evangelical House representatives looked out the windows and thought this was a sign that the end of the world had come.  Uproar ensued, with the representatives calling for immediate adjournment.  But Davenport rose and said, "Gentlemen, the Day of Judgment is either approaching or it is not.  If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment.  If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty.  Therefore, I wish that candles be brought."  Candles were brought and the session continued. Today’s readings contain the same message: we always need to be prepared to receive Jesus at his second coming by accepting him now as our personal savior and doing now what he has commanded us to do.

Introduction: The readings in the early Sundays of Advent always carry forward the "end of the world" theme from the last Sundays of the previous year, the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time and the Feast of Christ the King, the 34th and final Sunday of the Liturgical year. This links each ending year with the one following it. Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the “Sunday of Hope” in God and His Son, Jesus Christ, through whom God has promised to save and redeem His people. Today we begin our yearly re-enactment of the drama of our salvation, starting with the mystery of the Incarnation (Christmas) and culminating in the celebration of Christ’s ultimate victory (Christ the King). It is our yearly pilgrimage through the scenes and events of our history of salvation.  Advent is a time for looking both backward and forward.  We look backward as we prepare to celebrate the historical birth of Jesus. At the same time, we look forward to his Second Coming, as we prepare ourselves to welcome him into all areas of our lives during the Advent season.  In the Eucharistic Acclamation we profess our faith in Jesus’ Second Coming: "We proclaim Your Death, O Lord, and profess Your Resurrection until You come again"; and in the Creed we proclaim our belief that “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” One Bible scholar has estimated that there are 1,845 references to Christ’s second coming in the Old Testament and 318 references in the New Testament. We see the traditional signs of Advent in our Church: violet vestments and hangings, dried flowers on the altar, and the Advent wreath. We light a candle on this wreath each Sunday until all four are lit.   These signs remind us that we are waiting for the rebirth of Jesus in our hearts and lives in love, mercy, compassion and forgiveness.

In the first reading, Isaiah (2:1-5) reports his vision of all nations gathering on Mount Zion, as described also by Micah (4: 1-3), using the image of pilgrimage. The prophet looks forward to the time when the Covenant between God and His people will be extended to all people, and the Temple in Jerusalem will be the worshipping place for all mankind, so that all may live in peace and harmony with God and their fellow-humans. In the late eighth century BC, God's people were already divided into a northern kingdom called Israel, and a southern kingdom known as Judah.  Israel had fallen under Assyrian rule, while Judah and its capital Jerusalem were in danger of being conquered by Babylon.  In the vision of Isaiah, however, Judah is shown as the place to which all nations will come for “instructions in righteous living.” (Zion in Jerusalem was the holy mountain where Solomon's Temple had stood).  The result will be universal peace.  The Lord will mediate all disputes among nations, and "they shall beat their swords into plowshares." The prophet reveals to his audience the radical notion that God might love other nations in addition to Judah. The Responsorial Psalm (Ps 122) is a joyous hymn originally meant to be sung as pilgrims journeyed to Jerusalem, the site of the Temple, the dwelling place of God on earth. As we sing the Psalm today, it invites us to look longingly toward Christmas, the feast that celebrates the Incarnation of God among us.

The second reading (Romans 13:11-14) is Paul’s exhortation to the Roman Christians showing them how to bring about Isaiah’s vision of peace. Because of its concentration on the Parousia, or the Second Coming of Jesus, the Christian  community was neglecting its actual day-to-day duties. The Jewish Christians among them lived according to the Law of Moses, a moral code which even pagans admired.  But the Gentile Christians were not yet fully free from the “orgies, drunkenness, promiscuity and lust” of their pagan days.  Hence, Paul advises them: “Conduct yourselves properly.” He warns them against “orgies and drunkenness...promiscuity and lust.” He condemns their “rivalry and jealousy” and advises them to get ready to meet Jesus at his Second Coming.  Paul believes that Jesus' Second Coming will be a day of salvation only for those who are already acting in a proper manner. We, too, must act as pilgrims, entering wholeheartedly into our yearly pilgrimage through salvation history, leaving behind whatever might hinder our progress, and accepting whatever hardships our journey might entail.

Exegesis: The context: Matthew’s audience was mostly made up of Jewish converts to Christianity. These Christians were ridiculed and ostracized by their Jewish friends who had not accepted Christ as the Messiah, and they wondered why some Jews were selected to become Christians and others not. To clear their doubts, Matthew quotes Jesus in today’s Gospel, suggesting the apparently arbitrary nature of the election on the last day. Just as at the time of the Deluge, Noah and his small family were spared while others perished, so shall it be at "the end." The emphasis on the unpredictability of election may have helped Matthew's Jewish Christian audience to deal with the fact that many of their fellow-Christians were recently despised Gentiles. This apocalyptic section of Matthew’s Gospel begins with Jesus' prediction of the destruction of the Temple, and goes on to Christ's   Second Coming, and the signs preceding both.  Jesus answers the disciples by giving them signs of the end of the age (24:3-8), foretelling persecutions (24:9-14), and recalling the sacrilege prophesied by Daniel (24:15-28).  Jesus also tells the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree (24:32-35), in which he warns his disciples to be alert and prepared.

The need for preparedness: The consistent warning in today’s Gospel text is that we should be prepared for the coming of the master.  Our text indicates that the end will seem to be a peaceful and normal time, with people eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, and working in their homes or businesses.  In this routine normal life, it might be easy to forget the "coming of the Son of Man."   In a reference to the story of Noah, Jesus says that the sin of the people was placing too much emphasis on the normal cares and necessities of life.  They were too concerned with eating and drinking – just as we are during the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's holidays.  Jesus reminds us that there is something more important than feasts or weddings: the Son of Man will come to us unexpectedly, either at our death or at the end of the world, and that could be at any moment.   Since God will show up without an appointment, we must be prepared at all times.

The “Rapture.” The reading from Romans contains a disputed reference to the so-called "rapture," an event in which, it is supposed, some people will be taken up from life on earth directly into the air to meet the returning Christ.  This concept of “dispensationalism," proposed by Rev. Nelson Darby an Irish Anglican lawyer -pastor  in A.D. 1800, is a misinterpretation, however.   The belief in the Rapture is rooted in the fourth and fifth chapters of 1 Thessalonians, which are placed into an elaborate chronology of "end-time" events based on other passages from Revelation, Daniel, and Matthew 24. In this scheme, the Rapture was called the "day of the Lord" which would come like “a thief in the night" (1 Thess. 5:2). After this secret removal of believers would come the rise of the Antichrist and the placement of the "Mark of the Beast" on his followers during seven years of Tribulation. At the end of those seven years, the second coming of Christ and Armageddon, the final battle between good and evil, would take place. The passage in Matthew (24:40-41), does, indeed, talk about some people being "taken" and some being "left behind,” but the word for "taken" (paralambanomai) means, not "to go up" but rather "to go along with.”  It isn't a magical word about the “born again and saved” people floating up in the air as many of our Protestant brothers believe.  It is much more like Jesus' words to the apostles by the Sea of Galilee:  “follow me” or “come along with me."

We need to be alert even while we work: The man working in the field and the woman working at the mill will be “left", because they won’t leave their work.  True enough – work is important.  We need to provide food and shelter for ourselves and our families.  But there is something more important than our work: the coming of the Son of Man. God will arrive unexpectedly. We don't know when a thief might break into our house, so we are prepared for him at all times.  We lock our doors and windows.  We leave a light on when we're gone. We put in an alarm system. We insure our possessions.  We do these things now because a thief could come at some unknown time.  Hence, even during this busy Christmas season we must keep our daily life centered on Christ.

How do we prepare for the unexpected coming of the Son of Man?  In Jesus’ parable, we have an example of the proper and improper methods of waiting.  The faithful slave who, with sincerity and good management, has faithfully carried out his master's instructions to ensure the welfare of his fellow-slaves (20:26-27), is always ready for his master's coming. In contrast, the wicked servant is primarily concerned with power, food and drink.  The master is the image for Jesus.   To be prepared for his coming (Matt. 24:3, 36-43), we must be obedient to the Divine will, which means that our actions must serve the community.  The question we might ask is: "Am I being faithful and wise in caring for others while waiting for Christ's return?"  The text reminds us that our preparation for the Incarnation of our Lord is only one aspect of our Advent preparation, and not necessarily the most important.  Let us remind ourselves of our need to be prepared for our Lord’s return in judgment without "doomsday paranoia" on the one hand or complacency on the other.

Life messages:  1) An Advent project: How to be alert and watchful in the spirit of today’s Gospel.  Every morning when we get up, let us pray, “Lord, show me someone today with whom I may share your love, mercy and forgiveness.”  St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa), once said, "Whatever you do in your family, for your children, for your husband, for your wife, you do for Jesus."  Every night when we go to bed, let us ask ourselves, “Where have I found Christ today?”  The answer will be God’s Advent gift to us that day. By being alert and watchful, we’ll be getting an extra gift:  Christ himself.  There is a saying about being saved which goes back to St. Thomas Aquinas: "Without God, I can't.  Without me, He won't."  

2) We need to be wakeful and watchful: We are so future-oriented that we frequently forget the present entirely.  We spend too much time trying to protect ourselves against future misfortunes.  We save for a rainy day, to get married, to buy a home, to send the children to college, to retire in comfort and to protect ourselves against future misfortunes with varieties of insurance.  But we need to be more spiritually wakeful to prepare for our eternal life.  Let us make this Advent season the time of such preparation. 

There was this very strong woodcutter who asked for a job with a timber merchant and got it. The wages the timber merchant paid were really good and so were the work conditions. For that reason the woodcutter was determined to do his best. His boss gave him an axe and showed him the area where he was supposed to work. The first day the woodcutter brought 18 trees. "Congratulations' the boss said "go on that way." Very motivated by the words of the boss, the woodcutter tried harder the next day, but he could only bring 15 trees. The third day he tried even harder but brought only 10 trees. Day after day he was bringing less and less trees. "I must be losing my strength," the woodcutter thought. He went to the boss and apologized, saying he could not understand what was going on. "When was the last time you sharpened your axe? The boss asked. "Sharpen? I had no time to sharpen my axe. I have been very busy trying to cut trees.." - We may have been busy with so many things, we may have neglected our spiritual life. Like the axe that needs sharpening, we also need to sharpen our spirit. Let us sharpen our spirit this Advent by becoming more loving, more prayerful, more compassionate, more generous and more faithful. Life is not about finding yourself! Life is about recreating yourself! Advent is God's marvelous gift to all of us. Let this season unfold slowly and nicely. (John Pichappilly in The Table of the Lord; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

Source: Homilies of Fr. Anthony Kadavil

22/11/2016 12:52