December 2, 2018
First Reading: Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm: 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14
Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2
Gospel: Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
As the song goes, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” A Christmas tree is already set up in the Daley Plaza downtown. The windows of Fields’ (excuse me, Macy’s) State Street store are delighting young and old with their holiday displays. Christmas shoppers are jamming the suburban malls. There is a radio station that is playing Christmas music twenty-four hours a day. The more organized among us have already sent out their Christmas cards and have all but completed their Christmas shopping. Some folks have already decorated their houses, inside and out, for Christmas. And the snow on the ground completes the scene.Everywhere we look there are reminders that Christmas is a few weeks away–everywhere except in today’s liturgy. The lessons that we hear on the first Sunday of Advent do not sound particularly “Christmasy” although the Season of Advent begins today–the time of preparation for the celebration of the Lord’s birth. Eventually, the Church’s attention will turn toward Christmas, but today the Church does not look back to the day of the Lord’s first coming as the infant lying in a manger–but ahead to the Lord’s second coming–when he will return in great power and glory. Today the Church calls us to look beyond the next three weeks, beyond Christmas, beyond the holiday season. The Church calls us to look forward to the new world that is coming. In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus speaks about signs in the heavens and on earth that will point to the advent of this new world. He tells us not to fear: “When these signs begin to happen, stand up straight and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”
We know what we must do to prepare for Christmas. We have our “to do lists” that include shopping, gift wrapping, decorating, cleaning, and cooking. But what do we have to do to prepare for the coming of the new world that Jesus speaks of? The answer is simple. Paul tells us: “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all so as to be blameless in holiness before God at the coming of our Lord Jesus . . . You should conduct yourselves to please God . . . .” We prepare for the coming of the new world–we help bring that new world in existence by loving one another and living to please God–a simple formula.
Mental health specialists tell us that the holiday season is a very difficult time for some people because it never lives up to the expectations that some have for it. After all their preparations, anticipation and hopes, some people are so disappointed by their experience of the holidays that they slip into serious depression. But we can be sure that we will not be disappointed with the new world come into existence when Jesus returns. It will fulfill our every expectation and beyond. We can throw ourselves completely into our preparation for that day with the assurance that our efforts will not be in vain. When Jesus returns, he will take our feeble efforts, join them to his own, and then present a new, transformed world to God. It will be the world as God created it to be and we will not be disappointed.
Anticipation, waiting, preparation these are what Advent is about. We are waiting not only for the coming of Christmas but for the coming of the new world when Jesus returns. We are preparing not simply for the holiday season but for the coming of the Lord Jesus with power and great glory. We anticipate not just the celebration of Jesus’ birth–we anticipate his return to complete the transformation of this world into a world of justice, peace and love. The good news is that we will not be disappointed with that new world. The best way to prepare for that new world is by doing what we can to help bring it about-by living in this present world in accord with the values of the gospel. Living by the ideals of Jesus Christ is the best preparation we can make for the new world that is coming.
Leslie J. Hoppe, OFM
Carroll Stuhlmueller, CP, Distinguished Professor of Old Testament Studies