1st Sunday of Advent 2016 (Year A)

27 November 2016

Isaiah 2.1-5
Romans 13.11-14
Matthew 24.37-44

One time I was watching TV with 2 friends. Both were heavy smokers. They said they could never stop smoking. Not long afterwards each of them had a heart attack. One died immediately but the other survived. His doctor told him to stop smoking or he would die. He believed the heart attack was a warning, a wake-up call to him and he stopped. It is hard to know why one died and the other survived.

Can we not say that the gospel today is a wake-up call from God? Jesus says to his listeners: “Stay awake because you do not know the hour when your master is coming”. And he uses two little examples from their history to remind us about the unexpected coming of Christ, the Son of Man at the end of time. How will you and I heed, pay attention to this invitation? Will we neglect it or be like the man in the story above who heard the call and took the steps necessary to respond for his own good.

We must beware of seeing today’s readings of this First Sunday of Advent as a kind of threat from Jesus, from God to us. In fact, they are the exact opposite. Jesus, who loves us passionately and unconditionally, is concerned only for our well-being, for our good. This is the Good News. He came into our world to reveal to us God’s total love for us and showed us, through his teachings and his life, what leads to true peace and joy beginning now. Unfortunately very many Christians don’t see it that way. They interpret the 10 Commandments and the Beatitudes of Jesus as a kind of threat: “keep these, if not you will be punished”. Nothing could be further from the mind of God. Today’s readings are not to cause fear in our hearts, but to allow hope to take over more and more in the place of fear. Jesus is encouraging us to do this by staying alert and avoid foolish, non life-giving behaviour.

Several times I have been at courses and the speaker said towards the end of the talk that they will meet again in 2 weeks and he gives the day, date and time. Quite often before the end of the session a number of people will raise their hands and ask when the next session will be. They were not alert to the information given about this a short time before.

Today the Church begins the new Church or Liturgical Year with the season of Advent. Advent can be seen as a kind of wake-up call to us to ask us how we are preparing for the coming of Christ. Are we alert? The word Advent means Arrival or Coming. Advent reminds us of the 3 comings of Jesus, the First was his being born in Bethlehem, which is what Christmas celebrates. But has he been born yet in my life? Have I made room for him or what fills up my life that prevents this? The Third coming will be his coming at the end of time. The Second Coming is right now as each day he comes to us. He knocks on our doors through others; through the events of our lives etc. He comes to us in ways that are so ordinary that often we miss these. Like a visit we receive from someone when we feel a bit low or a compliment from another when I do something good. Or again, a challenge from someone when I may be behaving in a way that is not life-giving for myself or others. Will I allow him more and more into my life? If I try with the help of the Spirit to be alert each day through prayer and good works, then it doesn’t matter when the end of time is for the 3rd coming of Jesus.

Advent is also a time of learning. The first reading today is from the prophet Isaiah. He invites us to go to God in order that ’he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths’. Isaiah spells this out for us as we wait for Jesus to come. He invites us to hammer our swords into ploughshares and our spears into sickles, the tools for harvesting. What swords do we as individuals use? Maybe the swords of unforgiveness, the swords of anger, of selfishness, threats to those whom we employ or have under our influence, etc. etc. Not easy to do but Jesus never said it would be easy. That’s why he asks us to call always on the Holy Spirit for help. The second reading from St. Paul invites us to throw off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light: courage, truth, integrity, compassion and love.

So Jesus, the Son of Man comes and surprises us at the least unexpected hour especially in our daily encounters with those he gives us as brothers and sisters. Waiting for the Lord does not take us out of history, but it involves us more in it since we are hoping for the God who has come and is in our midst. What then is inconsistent and what is unchristian in our behaviour as we wait? Maybe we should ask ourselves “In what direction are we going as we make our way as pilgrims on this earth?” How well am I preparing spiritually for Christmas? Hopefully the answer will be “Towards Jesus, towards peace and solidarity with everyone, a desire we all share”. A very good prayer to say often is: “Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.”

‘Lord Jesus, open our eyes and hearts to prepare in a special way for your coming more and more into our hearts this Christmas and always. Amen’.

Fr. Jim Kirstein SMA

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