2015-11-27 08:52:00

1st Sunday of Advent – Nov 29, 2015

Jer. 33:14-16 1Thess. 3:12-4:2 Luke 21:25-28, 34-36     

Who does not remember the ancient epic poem by Homer called the Odyssey? It is the story of Odysseus who traveled the world pursuing many adventures. Meanwhile back home his beautiful wife Penelope was being pursued by various suitors trying to take advantage of Odysseus’ twenty-year absence. In order to keep these suitors at bay, Penelope announced that when she finished weaving a particular garment, she would choose among these persistent suitors. There was something these suitors did not know, however. Each night Penelope undid the stitches that she put in during the daytime, and so she remained faithful to Odysseus until he returned. That is our call to be faithful. While we wait for Christ’s return, we are his body in the world, called to do his work. The church has been serving the world in Christ’s name for two thousand years. Now is not the time to let up.

Introduction: Advent is a time of waiting and hoping, of renewing our trust in God’s merciful love and care, and of reflecting on the several comings (advents), of Christ in our lives.  Besides his first coming at his birth, we are asked to reflect on Christ’s coming as the risen Lord at Easter, in the sacraments (especially the Eucharist), in our everyday lives, at the moment of death, and at the end of human history (the second coming).  The Church invites us to join a pilgrimage of faith by showing us a prophetic vision of Christ’s first coming (advent), through the prophecy of Jeremiah, his glorious Second Coming through the gospel selection from Luke, and his daily coming into our lives here and now through the second reading.  She also reminds us that these are days of "joyful and prayerful anticipation of Jesus’ coming” because the Advent season is intended to fill us with great expectations of the coming of the Messiah just as parents expectantly wait for the birth of their child and make preparations for receiving the child into their family.  We know that all valuable things in life – a healthy child, a loving marriage relationship, a work of art, a scientific discovery – need a period of quiet incubation.  In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah was waiting and hoping for an ideal descendant of King David who might bring security and justice to God’s people.  He was waiting for the Messiah of Israel, and we Christians believe that Jeremiah’s waiting and hoping were fulfilled in Jesus.  He assures us that the Lord our justice will fulfill His promises and, hence, that we need not be afraid, in spite of the frightening events and moral degradation all around.  "For you I wait all the day long:" Thus, the psalmist expresses the central idea of patient and prayerful waiting for the Lord in today’s responsorial psalm, asking Him to make known His ways to us, to 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.”  He urges us to put God’s promise of peace into action by cultivating a spirit of love for others.  We are told 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: Jeremiah, the prophet of hope, introduces us 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 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 concealed the 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; 2 Chronicles 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."  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).  His inspiring words, spoken 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: 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.  His coming would mean the end of history and the judgment of all peoples.  That’s why Paul emphasizes 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, that our hearts will be strengthened.

Exegesis: Two versions of the endtime 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 which 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.  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, disassociated the destruction of the Temple from Jesus’ prediction of the end of the world.

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.  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, 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 his 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 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.

            2) A message of warning and hope: The Church begins the Advent season of  liturgical year C by presenting the second coming of Christ in glory, in order to give us a vision of our future glory in heaven and to show us the preparation needed for it.  She reminds us that we are accountable for our lives before Christ the Judge.  Today’s readings invite us to assess our lives during Advent and to make the necessary alterations in the light of the approaching Christmas celebration.  It is a call to “look up” to see that Christ is still here.  We must raise our heads in hope and anticipation, knowing that the Lord is coming again.  Luke reminds us to trust in Jesus, amid the tragedies that sometimes occur in our daily lives.  Our marriage may break up; we may lose our job, discover that we have cancer or some terminal illness, or become estranged from our children.  In all such situations, when we feel overwhelmed by disaster and feel that our lives have no meaning, Jesus says: "Stand up, raise your heads, because your salvation is near" (Lk 21:28).

A story is told of the photographer taking a picture. He says to the woman, "Smile pretty for the camera." A moment later, "OK, madam, you can resume your usual face." Whether you and I will have a successful Advent these next four weeks will depend on the attitude or face we bring to it today. We must stay awake, as Jesus advises us in this Gospel and practice self-control.  The Greek philosopher, Plato, who lived out his life several centuries before Christ, wrote, "The greatest victory in the world is the victory of self-conquest."

(Source: Homilies of Fr. Tony Kadavil)

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