Come, Lord Jesus! The Meaning of Advent | Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J. | A Homily for the First Sunday of Advent, 2007 | From the November 2007 issue of Homiletic & Pastoral Review
1st Sunday of Advent—December 2 | "A" Readings: Isa. 2:1-5 | Rom. 13:11-14 | Matt. 24:37-44
Title: The Meaning of Advent
Purpose: (1) to explain Advent as referring to the three comings of Christ (at Bethlehem, at the end of the world, into our hearts by grace this Christmas); (2) to encourage the faithful to try harder to lead a good Catholic life.
The word "Advent," of course, means "coming." So in Advent we celebrate the various comings of Jesus, the Word incarnate and God on earth. We commemorate his coming at Bethlehem two thousand years ago, his Second Coming at the end of the world, and his coming to us in time in our baptism and in the reception of his sacraments, such as the Holy Eucharist. The Church urges us to open our hearts to receive him with faith, hope and love.
Coming results in a certain presence—a more intimate presence, since he is already present in our hearts, or should be, by his grace. Just as we prepare for guests who come for dinner, so also the Church bids us prepare in a special way for the coming of Christ at Christmas time. By doing this, we prepare ourselves for his final coming—first at our death and then at his Second Coming at the end of the world.
The readings today urge us to "stay awake," to "be prepared" because we do not know the day or hour the Lord is coming to get us. In a very true sense we can say, "the Lord has come, the Lord is coming, and Lord will come again." We need to thank him, to welcome him and to wait for him.
The Old Testament prophets looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, the
Anointed of the Lord, the Great King. In today's first reading Isaiah sees a bright future in the Messianic era. He says that truth and justice will go forth from Jerusalem to all the world. This is an image of the Church today as the source of salvation for all mankind.
Isaiah prophesies that the Lord will impose peace on many peoples. There shall be no more war and preparing for war: "Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!"; that is, we must obey the Lord, believe in him and practice virtue. This applies first of all to the faithful who have the peace of Christ in their hearts. It does not refer to any historical time, to any earthly utopia. Because of original sin and man's inclination to evil, there will always be wars and rumors of wars until the final coming of Jesus on the last day.
According to St. Matthew in today's gospel, the coming of Jesus requires of us a decision for him and watchfulness. Any day, any moment could be the final coming of the Lord for you and for me.
The Second Coming of the Lord will be sudden and unexpected, like the flood in the time of Noah. Many people ignored the warnings, ridiculed Noah for building a big boat on dry land, far from the sea. How ridiculous! But the flood came and destroyed them, while Noah survived with his family and animals.
The same thing will happen to all who do not heed the words of the Lord. But God's judgment is individual, not according to groups. "Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken and one will be left," that is, one will be taken into the Church and saved, and the other will be lost. "Stay awake, therefore! You cannot know the day your Lord is coming."
The future coming of the Lord will slip quietly into the present, undetected—like a thief in the night. So we must always be ready for him. This means following Christ and living the Christian life seriously, according to the measure of God's grace given to each one of us. Everything said in the Gospel about the Second Coming also applies to us. Any day we can meet a sudden death on a highway—and that is the final coming of Jesus as far as we personally are concerned. So, be prepared, be watchful!
Finally, Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of the Lord. How do we prepare ourselves? By fervent and daily prayer, by being faithful to our commitments and state in life, by practicing acts of self-denial, by carrying our cross daily, by kindness towards others (especially members of our family), by avoiding all sarcasm and unjust criticism of others.
Like the early Christians, we should yearn for the coming of Christ. They prayed, "Come, Lord Jesus!" Now he will come to us in this Mass, offering us his body and blood in the Eucharist. Let us receive him with open hearts and dedicate ourselves to him anew. If we can do that much, we will have accomplished in some part what the Church bids us accomplish during this blessed Advent of 2007. "Be prepared. The Son of Man is coming at the time you least expect. Come, Lord Jesus!"
Suggested reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1042-1050.
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Father Kenneth Baker, S.J., is author of the best selling Fundamentals of Catholicism (three volumes) and of the popular introduction to the Scripture, Inside the Bible.
He has been editor of Homiletic & Pastoral Review for over thirty years.
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