ADVENT I - C - 15 LUKE 21. 25-36
The Advent season is the beginning of a new Church year; a year in which we will recant in word, sacrament, and song the ancient story of our salvation once again. Although Advent is a new beginning the gospel reading for the first Sunday of the new year is always about the “end times” where, as St. Luke says, “the Son of Man,” will be seen, “ coming in a cloud with power and great glory” to which the Collect adds “to judge both the living and the dead.”
You have heard me say before that this brief season, only four weeks long, is one that runs backwards. In essence it does. We begin with Christ’ warning to be watchful for the “day” of His second coming so as not to be caught by surprise. We end this splendid little season of expectation and anticipation with His first coming in great humility as a babe in a manger.
The Latin word “Adventus,” from which we get our word Advent, translates “coming.” All of today’s readings speak of His coming. The prophet Jeremiah proclaims God’s promise of a “righteous branch” that will spring up for David and execute justice and righteousness for God’s people. It was a promise God’s people needed to hear as it raised their hopes and expectation of a day of salvation; a promise delivered to them while they were still in exile.
St. Paul writes to the church at Thessalonica to encourage and strengthen the Christians there to maintain their holiness and their faithfulness so that “they may be blameless before their God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”
Jeremiah’s timely proclamation brought hope to Israel. The people looked forward to that “day;” as St. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians brought encouragement to the young Christians in that place to remain faithful and anticipate the coming of the Lord.
Our gospel reading for this first Sunday in the Advent season is St. Luke’s take on Jesus’ prophetic announcement (warning) of the day of His coming when “he will appear in a cloud with power and great glory to judge the living and the dead.” Both Matthew and Mark have similar passages concerning the end of the age as we know it. In today’s passage Jesus warns us to be “on guard;” to “be alert, for that day will come when we least expect it.”
He also encourages us to pray for strength to meet the prelude of cataclysmic events that will precede it, so that we will be able to escape “all these things” and “stand before the Son of Man.” For some, it will obviously be a dark day, not one to anticipate or to look forward to but rather one to fear; for others it will be a day of rejoicing, but only if we are truly prepared for it.
Many today, however, believe that this “day” will never come. After all they say, there has already been two thousand years of Church history and no second coming has occurred. The heavens and earth as we know them have not passed away and life goes on as usual. But this is at the very heart of the warning Jesus gives in today’s reading.
Christ makes it abundantly clear that it is not a matter of “if” such a day will come, but rather “when” it will come. “All these things will take place,” Christ proclaims. That should be a sobering thought to all of us. Jesus’ emphasis here is on “watchfulness” and the practice of virtue rather than constructing timetables, or trying to second guess God.
The “signs” Christ says will be abundantly clear; signs in sun, moon and stars that will bring confusion and distress among the nations. Watch for them Jesus says and don’t be weighed down by the cares and anxieties of everyday life to the point that you are taken by surprise and find yourselves unprepared for that day.
In addition we find in Matthew and Mark’s account a warning not to follow false “saviors” who say they have all the answers for why these things Jesus predicts are occurring and who go on to say there is no need to worry. However, waiting and watching, expecting and anticipating the Lord’s return, is what the season of Advent is all about.
The spiritual reality is we are living between Advents: Christ’ first coming in great humility as a babe in a manger and His second coming in power and great glory with his holy angels to judge. It is what we do between these two “Advents” that determines where we will spend eternity. For one day we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account of ourselves.
Jesus’ warning is really an exhortation to watchful waiting in which we are to avoid being weighed down by the cares and pleasures of life. We are to avoid having our spiritual senses dulled by diversions to the point that our expectations of Christ’ second coming wanes, and we become complacent in our anticipation of that day and find ourselves caught by surprise. Patience is the key.
“Be on guard, be alert and pray for strength to meet those days; to survive those days Christ says to all who will listen. That is what it is all about a steady trend of prayer, hope, scripture, sacrament, song and witness, day by day, week by week, year in and year out until He comes again. Patient watchful waiting, anticipating and expectation is what we are called to be engaged in between Advents.
Today we begin a new year of grace by being reminded of the “end times” when all will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory to judge both the living and the dead. Not a day to be feared for the faithful, but a day of rejoicing and hope; a day to stand up and raise our heads, because we will know that our salvation is near.
May God give us the grace and strength to continue our watchful waiting praying that we will be able to endure what lies ahead, so that when the end does come, we shall be found holy and blameless and worthy to stand before Him who is to be our judge, in the hope that we may rise to life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. AMEN+