The Gospel for November 29th, 2015, First Sunday of Advent: “The Coming of the Son of Man” and “Exhortation to be Vigilant”
Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36
Jesus said to his disciples:
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the seas and the waves. People will die of fright in the anticipation of what is coming in the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”
“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Upon reaching the first Sunday of Advent, we are reminded that the Son of Man is coming. We are reminded of this ecclesiastically because Advent is a season of preparation for Christmas, the celebration of Jesus’s first coming into the world. However, this advent Gospel is about Jesus’s second coming, which will be marked by frightening and disorienting signs prior to His arrival and accompanied “with power and great glory” (25-27) in its manifestation. The imagery of this is impressive. Will it really look like this, or is this language figurative and not to be taken literally? I raise this question because the passage suggests there will be signs of the second coming. Of course I want to be able to recognize them. But then I realize I recognize these descriptions already. How many hurricanes and tsunamis in recent years have left “nations in dismay “ and “perplexed by the roaring of the seas and waves,” including the United States from the destruction New Orleans at the hands of Hurricane Katrina a decade ago? How many people throughout history have died “of fright in the anticipation of what is coming in the world” (26) due to war, famine, and disease?
Since Jesus is not clear about how many signs to expect, we are not in a position to put off our vigilance for His coming. The day could be very near to which years of signs have been pointing. Or it may not happen during our lifetimes. It seems to me the only way to avoid being caught unprepared is to be ready every day. And so on a daily basis, we find ourselves in the familiar position of deciding whether to serve Christ or to live selfishly for ourselves. Vacations for “carousing and drunkenness” (34) on worldly escapes and desires are not an option; there are no breaks for “me time.” In the end remaining alert to Christ’s coming is a lifelong commitment to Christian discipleship, which in a culture fraught with “commitment issues” can be difficult to maintain. But those of us who have tried to live without Christ under the misguided belief we will be happier pursuing our own plans have learned over time that there is no lasting happiness without Christ. Once that lesson is learned, the concern is not that I as a Christian will give up, for there is nowhere else to turn; but rather become fatigued by the daily battle to live an unselfish life of faith when surrounded by the temptation of a world that says we should live for the moment. I feel this tension most days. In this state, Christ’s words resonate deeply with me, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life” (34).The signs are already there; but like Peter, James, and John in Gethsemane, we fall asleep in prayer and at watch, even though the Son of Man is in view. Is it impossible to stay awake? Are we doomed to fail?
No! This is why Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit and gave us the Church to strengthen us to keep walking the path of holiness. We are not left alone waiting for His coming; He is with us in the Holy Spirit and the Eucharist. The Church in Her sacraments shakes off the drowsiness of life in the world, and the saints who have completed the road to Jesus will pray for us if we only ask. With the season of Advent, the Church does more than just deliver Jesus’s exhortation to be vigilant, She offers a season with many opportunities to be charitable and to celebrate masses and feasts with the supper of the Eucharist. Advent is not a lonely wait for Jesus’s coming; our watch will be a celebration of His love in His presence if we just remember to join in.