First Sunday of Advent

Post Date: November 22, 2021
Author: Ric Cross

A Reflection on the Readings on the First Sunday of Advent, November 28, 2021

Reading I: Jer 33:14-16
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14
Reading II: 1 Thes 3:12—4:2
Gospel: Lk 21:25-28, 34-36

This Sunday marks the beginning of a new year in the church’s calendar; the Extraordinary Liturgical Season of Advent and the beginning of the Cycle C readings. The Season of Advent prepares us for the celebration of Christ’s first coming into the world at Christmas, but it also prepares us for that Second Coming at a time we can only anticipate but cannot predict. The message of Advent is: “Watch with anticipation and be prepared.”

The Incarnation of Christ’s physical entry into the world that we celebrate at Christmas is not something that should have caught the ancient peoples off guard; God announced this event time and again through the words of the prophets, and we have one of those announcements in our first reading this week. If the Incarnation was announced and fulfilled, then we should also be ready for the fulfillment of the announcement that Christ will return again. At his “Second Coming,” we are told that Christ will establish a “New Heaven and a New Earth.” We don’t know what that will look like. Will the earth simply disappear and we find ourselves in a new form of existence that we like to call heaven, or will the earth be re-formed into a worldwide society where peace and justice prevail? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. But we do know that when he comes again, those who have experienced an interior repentance and conversion will experience that existence of peace and justice; those who have not will pay for their failure. That interior repentance and conversion could be understood as a “Third Coming:” First, the birth of Christ at the Incarnation; second, acceptance of the gospel message leading to repentance and conversion; then third, the return of Christ at the “Second Coming.”  

Our first reading from chapter 33 of the Prophet Jeremiah contains one of those announcements by God through the Prophet Jeremiah that the days are coming when God will send the Messiah, a “just shoot” raised up from the lineage of King David. Those who heeded this prophecy of Jeremiah waited with anticipation for the promised Messiah and, unfortunately, many Jews today are still waiting. As Christians, we understand that prophecy to have been fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ; the just one who “shall do what is right and just in the land” and he shall be called “The Lord our justice.”  

If we go back a few chapters in the Book of Jeremiah to chapter 31, we will find a passage that is often referred to as “The Gospel Before the Gospel” in verses 31 to 34 in which God promises a “New Covenant” for the House of Israel and the House of Judah. The theme of this New Covenant is prominent throughout the ancient prophets, but, according to Jeremiah, the New Covenant will differ from the Old Covenant God made with the people when he led them from Egypt in the Exodus. The New shall last forever; it shall never be broken; God’s law will be written in the hearts of the people rather than on stone tablets, and knowledge of God will be so wide-spread that the people will no longer need to be taught about God. As Christians, we understand that the New Covenant was initiated by Christ and his teachings in the gospels and has been carried on by the church throughout history. Those are the laws written on our hearts. Not all have accepted those teachings, so the church carries on the work of spreading that message until Christ returns. And, WE ARE THE CHURCH! It is not simply the responsibility of priests and bishops to preach the message; it is our responsibility as well. We may not preach homilies from the pulpit, but we can do so by the way we live our lives. It is not enough to profess our faith; we must live it: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt 7:21). In other words, the Kingdom of God is to be found WITHIN US. When we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy Kingdom Come,” we pray that the kingdom should be found within us and strengthened within us. In our second reading, St. Paul reminds us that, even though, as Christians, we have accepted the teachings of Christ, we should “Do so even more.”  

When Christ returns, the New Covenant will be complete in “a new heaven and a new earth,” and there will no longer be a need to teach about God because all will have complete knowledge of God. The church will cease to exist because those who have experienced interior repentance and conversion will find themselves existing in peace, justice, and the happy presence of God. We, as the church, should do everything in our power to live our faith so that others will see our faith and be drawn to it. In the last chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus commissioned the disciples, telling them what was expected of them. That same commissioning applies to us as the church: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:19-20).

Our gospel passage is a troubling one with ominous signs in the sky, turmoil among nations and people dying of fright. If there is any consolation in that passage it is that, after the turmoil, we will see “The Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” But those who have experienced that interior repentance and conversion will have nothing to fear “because your redemption is at hand.” But we are also cautioned to remain firm and pray that we have the strength to maintain our faith in the turmoil we are told will come and in the turmoil we experience in the world we live in. Pray that we have the strength to “stand before the Son of Man.”  

Author: Ric Cross

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