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Homily notes: First Sunday of Advent Year C, 2 December 2018

Fr Brendan Byrne SJ  |  23 November 2018

Lectionary reading

First reading: Jeremiah 33:14-16.

Responsorial psalm: 24(25):4-5, 8-9, 10, 14.

Second reading: 1 Thessalonians 3:12 – 4:2.

Gospel: Luke 21:25-28, 34-36.

Link to readings.

A few words on Advent in general. Advent transports us back to the longing of the prophets of Israel for the coming of a Saviour. The Saviour has come. But salvation is not complete. We proclaim, “Christ has died, Christ is risen”, and then add, “Christ will come again”.

Why? Because there is so much “unfinished business” in the work of redemption. Our world and even the lives of believers still appear very “unredeemed”. Our salvation is still being worked out.

The first generation of Christians believed that the Lord would return very soon to complete his messianic work. They were dismayed when some believers began to die and still he had not come (1 Thess 4:13-18). The later writings of the New Testament, the four Gospels included, all address this problem. It may be that the Lord will not come tomorrow, next year, or even before this generation dies out. But come he will in a time known only to God (Mark 13:32).

Meanwhile, this time of waiting is not devoid of meaning – like time spent waiting on a bus stop. This “in-between” time is a sacred time, a time for the Church to proclaim the Gospel to every nation (Mark 13:10; Acts 1:6-8), to make sense of the present, while never giving up the hope that God’s Messiah, Jesus, will have the last word.

Advent is the season that honours and celebrates this waiting aspect of Christian life. Because we live in the time following the first coming of the Saviour, the prime focus of our waiting and our expectation is upon the second coming of the Lord. But because salvation is not complete, because we are so conscious of a world still ravaged by suffering and violence, we can identify with the prophets and holy men and women who hung upon the promise of salvation before the first coming of the Lord. Their cries express our own longings and hopes for a liberated and just world.

First Sunday of Advent, Year C

Commentary

Today’s First Reading, Jeremiah 33:14-16, expresses the hope for the restoration of David’s dynasty following Israel’s return from captivity in Babylon. In the years leading up to the time of Jesus, this text became a key vehicle of the hope for an ideal king of David’s line who would be God’s instrument inaugurating prosperity, justice and peace. Christian readers of the Old Testament naturally referred God’s promise to make a “virtuous Branch for David” to the coming of Jesus. In fact, there are echoes of this text in the angel Gabriel’s description to Mary of the status and role of the child she is to bear (Luke 1:32-33).

The Second Reading, 1 Thessalonians 3:12–4:2, well expresses the early Christian sense of living in expectation of the second coming of the Lord. What matters above all is to be “blameless” in the sight of our God and Father when the Lord Jesus comes.

Today we no longer look to a literal “arrival” of the Lord on the clouds of heaven (see 4:16-17). But Christian faith has never abandoned the sense of accountability that goes with this expectation. Hence we can hear as addressed to ourselves Paul’s exhortation to his very recent converts in Thessalonica to make more and more progress in living out the gospel.

The Gospel (Luke 21:25-28, 34-36), taken from the Jesus’ long instruction on the future (21:5-38), again focuses upon the second coming of the Lord. It is full of the kind of apocalyptic descriptions and portents that have always excited the fundamentalist religious imagination. They create real difficulty for preachers today. The important things, I think, is to focus upon the basic intent of such discourse, which is to address the sense of dismay and challenge to hope that calamities of various kinds present. While God may appear to be silent or absent, somehow all these things are held within the divine purpose, which will ultimately win through. The reference to the coming of Jesus as Son of Man catches up the vision of Daniel 7:13-14, a text which played a very significant role in early Christian messianic hope. Jesus will come “with all his saints”: the “communion of saints” that unites the Church on earth with all who have gone before us to the Lord and with all those holy ones who lived before his coming, will at last be revealed.

While the basic message is one of comfort and reassurance, the second part of the gospel adopts a more admonitory tone. Believers must be like people expecting visitors but unsure as to when exactly they will arrive. The time of waiting requires attentiveness and a sharp spiritual sense. Anything that dulls the spirit (debauchery and drunkenness) or causes it to be distracted (absorption in the cares of life) must be avoided.

Advent is a time for examination in such areas. It is also a time for exploring our deepest longings and desires and allowing them to surface. They can ride up, so to speak, on the rich Scripture texts that the Church puts before us at this time.

God’s only wish in our regard is to communicate to us the life and love for which we long. Each Advent should expand both our longing and our capacity to receive the gift of God.

 

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