29 November 2015: First Sunday of Advent

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


Advent: a sense of urgent watching

This Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, marks the start of a new liturgical year: the liturgical color changes from Ordinary time’s green to Advent’s purple, and the Sunday gospel readings change this year from Mark to Luke. As we experience the unfolding liturgical narrative and rituals, we journey with Jesus on the path from promise and incarnation to passion, death, and Easter. On this first Advent Sunday, the Lectionary asks RCIA participants and the believing community to be alert to the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies.

The first reading is from the prophet Jeremiah (627-585 BC), who called the Hebrews in Judah to interior conversion. In today’s passage, Jeremiah tells the people of Judah, who are being oppressed by the Babylonians, that God will send a descendant of David (“a just shoot”) to rule righteously (“do what is right and just”). Christians understand Jeremiah’s prophecy as fulfilled in Jesus’ incarnation, life, death, and resurrection.

The second reading is from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonica ekklesia–the oldest preserved Christian document, written in AD 50 or 51. Paul writes to the Thessalonians after hearing they need advice. This letter introduces one of his important themes: love (“abound in love for one another and all”). Paul also urges the Thessalonians to remain “blameless … before God” in anticipation of Jesus’ return, and to “conduct yourselves to please God.” That is, they should follow Jesus’ way of life in which Paul instructed them (“for you know what instructions we gave you.”)

The gospel continues the theme of fulfillment of the messianic prophecies. The reading is part of Jesus’ Jerusalem ministry, specifically Luke’s eschatological discourse (Lk 21:5-38). The discourse includes two ideas:

  • The signs: Similar to Mark’s “little apocalypse” a few weeks ago, Luke’s Jesus prophecies about the end of this age (“signs in the sun, moon, and stars”) and the full realization of God’s kingdom (“your redemption is at hand”).
  • The warning: Jesus warns his disciples to be “vigilant” and to “pray.” That is, the disciples should always be looking for the signs–not in fear, but in hope that God’s kingdom is about to be instituted fully. At this time the Son of Man will judge the whole world, deciding who is worthy to enter the kingdom. Those distracted by the “anxieties of life”–who haven’t persisted in discipleship–are not fit for the kingdom. Those who “have the strength”–who have lived as true disciples–will be invited into the kingdom.

As the new liturgical year begins, prophecies fill the Advent readings. They urge RCIA participants and the whole believing community to watch for Jesus’ comings: in the past, as Israel’s promised messiah; in the future, as the Son of Man who judges all people; and in the present moment, as God hidden and revealed in daily liturgy. Are we paying attention? Are we ready to stand before the Son of Man?

–Terence Sherlock


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