First Sunday of Advent (A)


Commentary on Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:37-44

A NEW YEAR in the Church’s calendar begins today. Happy new year to all!

This period is appropriately called “Advent”.  It comes from the Latin word adventus which simply means ‘coming’.  But whose coming are we talking about?  Obviously we are beginning to prepare to remember God coming to be a human being among us, with us and like us.  And yet, although the Scripture for today does speak of the coming of God, it makes no mention of the coming of Christ as Christmas.

Actually, at this time we can speak of three comings of God.  The first, is when Jesus, the Son of God came to be born in the stable at Bethlehem.  But today’s Mass also speaks of the final coming of Jesus at the end of the world.  And there is still a third kind of coming we need to be aware of, namely, when God enters our lives every day.  Every single experience can be an opportunity to make contact with God.  And we are reminded of that ongoing contact with God especially in the celebration of the sacraments, including this Eucharist.

Preparing for the end

Today’s Mass actually says very little about the first coming of Jesus or, about his birth in Bethlehem.  The Scripture readings rather emphasise our need to prepare for the final coming of Jesus, whether that means the end of the world as we know it or of the end of our own individual lives.

The First Reading invites us to go with God.  It says, “Let us go together to the Temple of God.”  Of course, we know that for us Jesus himself is the real Temple of God.  And, because of that, the body of the Christian community united with Christ its Head is also God’s Temple.  And we go to him and with him because “he will teach us his ways that we may walk in his paths”.  He will show us the way for us to follow on our pilgrimage through life, the way that will lead us to meet him on that last day on earth.

A final coming

The Second Reading and the Gospel emphasise that we must prepare for that final coming of Jesus, whatever form it is going to take.  The first coming of Jesus in Bethlehem is to help us prepare for this final coming.

We really need this warning.  On the one hand, we do not like to think too much about how or when we will leave this world.  But it is a fact.  It is the one future fact of our lives of which we can be absolutely certain.  There are people who are very afraid to die and who do not even want the subject raised.  Today’s Scripture wants to remind us of the final purpose of our lives.

Many of us are like the people mentioned in today’s Gospel: “Before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing till the flood came and swept them all away…”  These people were doing very ordinary things.  Exactly the same things that we do.  But they were so busy doing them that they failed to give any thought to where their lives were ultimately leading and what was the goal of that life.

They were very busy, just like us.  Maybe they were very successful, maybe they made a lot of money, maybe they made wonderful marriages, had lots of exciting experiences…  But, in the end, they were not ready for the most important appointment of their lives.  The question is: how ready am I right now?

Maybe you think: “I don’t have to worry.  I had my medical check-up the other day and the doctor said I have the heart of a teenager.”  But how many teenagers end up as statistics on the death toll on our roads every year?  For them, death is something which happens to other people, to old and sick people.

We sometimes think that the busier we are the  better.  (We even like to say, “The devil finds work for idle hands to do.”)  We work for today, for tomorrow, for next month, for next year, for our future, for our children’s future…  But what about our real future?  Our future with God?  What preparations are we making for that future?

One taken, one left

So the Gospel today says, “Of two men in the fields, one is taken, one is left; of two women at the millstone grinding, one is taken, one left.”  This could mean that one is taken away by a natural or personal disaster (an earthquake or a heart attack) and the other left untouched.  Or it could mean that God takes one away to himself and abandons the other.  In either event, the basic meaning is the same.  Two men, two women on the outside apparently the same, doing the same work.  And yet there is an important difference between them.  One is prepared and one is not.

Of course, in our daily lives we have to work, cook food, earn our living, take care of our families… but we must also prepare for the final call.  That is the most basic reality of our lives.  If we forget that, all our other success is actually failure.  Let us remember the story of Martha and Mary.  Martha was so busy about good things, about taking care of others but it was Mary who was in the right place, in touch with the centre of meaning, the Word made flesh.

And we do not know when the Lord will come.  “If the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into…”  And, in many ways, it is a blessing that we do not know the day nor the hour.  On the one hand, if we did know, we could be filled with a terrible anxiety knowing what the final blow was going to be or, on the other hand, we would let our lives go completely to pot knowing that we could straighten everything out at the last minute.  In either case, our world would become a terrible place in which to live.  So it is a question of being ready for any eventuality.  “Stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming…”

How prepare?

The obvious question to ask is, How are we to prepare?  St Paul today in the Second Reading has some advice.  “Let us give up all the things we tend to do under cover of darkness and live decently as people do in the daytime.”  I guess there are dark areas in all of our lives.  Things we do, things we say, things we think, the indulging of our lower and self-centred appetites; things which we would not like other people to know about because they are quite wrong.  They do no good to me or to others.

Instead, we need to develop our relations with God and with our brothers and sisters based on a caring and unconditional love for all.  We need to learn how to find God, to find Jesus in every person, in every experience.  We need to respect every person as the image of God.  We are to love our neighbours as ourselves, to love everyone just as Jesus loved us.

If, in our words and actions, our daily lives are full of the spirit of Jesus, then we have prepared.  We do not need to be anxious about the future or what will happen to us.  Concentrate on today, on the present hour, the present situation and respond to it in truth and love and the future will take care of itself.  Then we do not have to fear no matter when Jesus makes his final call.  Because we know he is going to say:  “Come, my friend. I want to call you now; I want to share with you my life that never ends.”  And we will respond: “Yes, Lord, I am ready.  I have been waiting for you all this time.”  It will be an encounter, not of strangers, but of two old friends.

 

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