Gospel Reflection 1st Sunday of Advent
Fr. Nicholas King SJ Reprinted by kindness of the Southern Star.
1st Sunday of Advent – Year C (November 29th)
Readings: Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:4-5, 8-10, 14
1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2
Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
Whatever it says in the shops, and even if they are blasting Good King Wenceslas from all the loud-speakers together, Christmas has yet to arrive. Next Sunday we start “Advent”, a word which means “Coming”, because Jesus has not yet come; the trick for us during the next four weeks will be to wait and to watch out for the hand of God, for the coming of Jesus.
The first reading for next Sunday brings us up short, if we were thinking that it might be Christmas already. Instead of that, Jeremiah tells us “behold – the days are coming (an oracle of YHWH)”. This idea of “the days” continues through the reading: “in those days and at that time I shall cause a righteous branch to spring up for David…in those days Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell in security”. The very idea of a “branch” suggests the slow but purposeful growth of a tree: unlike the demands of our busy society, with its yen for instant gratification, God’s work is unhurried but reliable. God is utterly faithful, but is never to be rushed. The text does not say “he will give me the play-station that I have been longing for”, but “he will set up justice in the land”. That is a much slower enterprise. In the end, though, it is all about God, nothing to do with the shops, all about the distant horizon, nothing to do with “I want it and I want it now!”: Jerusalem must first be renamed “YHWH our righteousness” – and that will not happen in a hurry.
The psalm likewise sings of a time that has not yet come. “Make me know your ways, YHWH, teach me your paths” has nothing to do with immediate satisfaction; instead it expresses that sense of being on a journey that is just starting: “make me go on the way of your truth, and teach me that you are the God of my salvation – I will wait for you all the day”. Advent is a slowly unfolding process, whose meaning takes time to appear.
That being the case, we need to prepare ourselves for the long haul; but only God can do that for us, and so in the second reading Paul prays that “the Lord may fill you and make you overflow with love for each other, and for all” (we can do this for the length of a football match – but it is rather harder to contemplate over a lifetime). And why does he pray for this? “So that you may be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of Our Lord Jesus with all his saints”. This is not the matter of a moment.
And nor is the cosmic weather forecast that constitutes next Sunday’s gospel, with its talk of “signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on earth anguish of nations, dismayed at the sound of the sea’s rolling”. And Jesus speaks of human forebodings: “people dying of fear as they wait for what is coming on the world – for the powers of Heaven will be shaken”. And it will not be rushed: “and then” [but when?] “they will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory”. However because God is in charge, this is not to be a signal for us to retreat into our bunkers: “when these things start, stand up straight; lift up your heads, because your redemption is approaching”. However in the interval we have to avoid taking our eyes off the ball, and so we must avoid “hangover and drunkenness and worldly cares”. Our task, no matter how weary or despondent we may be, is to “stay awake at every opportunity, asking for the ability to escape all these things that are going to happen, and to stand in the presence of the Son of Man”. But when will he come? That is not for us to know.