First Sunday of Advent

A particular phrase jumped out of the Gospel for me. Did you hear it? Right after the passage about nations in dismay and people dying in fright, there's good news: “Stand upright and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”

Many people search for a “secret to happiness” during the holiday season.  Someone wrote that all it takes to be happy is to do the following:
forgive and apologize;
listen to advice;
check your temper;
share the blame;
make the best out of situations; and
put the needs of others before your own.

That's good advice during this holiday season. I guarantee we’ll soon have a more positive outlook.

That’s what Advent is all about: hope in the future—a glorious future. So, we pray during the Advent season: Come, Lord Jesus and transfigure us into new creatures, yes transfigure us into the likeness of God; and re-create this universe of ours into a “new heaven and new earth.”  “Come, Lord Jesus” is the so-called “maranatha prayer” in the last chapter of the Book of Revelation. 

As we reflect upon global, political and “mother nature” challenges, e. g., the war in Yemen, threats to peace in the Ukraine, random acts of terrorism, and earthquakes and wildfires, we may recall the sentiments of  William Butler Yeats who wrote in his great poem The Second Coming: “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, the blood dimm’d tide is loosed, the best lack all convictions, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Advent speaks loudly and clearly against those sentiments that Yeats captured. Advent invites us to reflect on the threefold coming of Jesus.  Yes, Jesus came to us centuries ago in Bethlehem of Judea; He comes to us now sacramentally in this liturgy; and He will come again with great power and glory at the end-time.

Yes, “Stand upright and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”

How might we celebrate Advent? Some families create a wreath with four candles, and light one candle at the dinner table during the first week, two candles the second week, and so on. Upon lighting the candle, they pray in their own words for the coming anew of the Messiah into their own lives. Other families make a Jesse or genealogy tree to recapture the story of our salvation as told in the Hebrew Bible. Still others set up a Nativity scene and invite family members to take turns telling in their own words the meaning of Christmas, Emmanuel, God-with-us. These are but a few customs that can help us keep alive the profound meaning of Advent. Our redemption is at hand.

The word of God carries us back in our imaginations to a prophet named Jeremiah. The sixth century was a catastrophe for the Hebrews. Ancient Babylonia leveled Jerusalem, tore down the temple, and executed/deported many Hebrews to Babylonia. For this calamity, Jeremiah cited the infidelity of the Hebrews to the promises they made to God. But God is always faithful. And so Jeremiah spoke about hope: God one day will raise up a new king who will do what is right for his people. We might ask ourselves, do we try our best to do the right thing?

Paul in his letter to the Christian community at Thessaloniki in Greece urges them not to so much anticipate the “world to come” that they forget how to live here and now. Yes, Paul wrote, care for one another, pray fervently, please God and be ready when the Day of the Lord comes to us in the mystery of death. Paul might say to you and me, seize every opportunity to do all the good you can for all the people you can, for as long as ever you can.

The Gospel according to Luke speaks dramatically about signs (skies darkening, waters raging, winds roaring), signs that will signal the coming of Jesus Christ with great power and glory to transfigure us into the likeness of God.

And so, Jesus might say, “Change your ways; turn toward a God-centered, an other-centered life.” Surely we do not want Christ to chide us at the end:
“I was hungry, and you bought another luxury. I was thirsty, and you hoisted your tenth brewski. I was lonely in a hospital or nursing home, and you were too busy to see me.”

We gather together in his name before the word and around the table of the Lord to hear God’s voice in the bible and to re-experience the sacrificial, life-giving death and glorious resurrection of Jesus. Yes, through this mystery, we re-experience the living Christ who has already made us by grace what Jesus is by nature: sons and daughters of God.

This great truth of our faith (Emmanuel, God within us, sons and daughters of God) challenges us especially this Advent season to look for the good not only in ourselves but in other people and in the everyday situations of life.

Yes, “Stand upright and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” Be a good-finder: someone who looks for the good in oneself, in other people, in the situations of life.

Remember the magnificent hymn of the Virgin Mary:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. Because He the Mighty One has done great things for me. 

Mary rejoiced in the gifts God gave her, and so too should we rejoice in the gifts God has given to us for others.

Look for the good in other people. Someone wrote that people in many ways are like wildflowers. If you ever picked a wildflower and studied it, you would discover the veins, the fragile petals, the beautiful blossom. Turn it toward the light. The wildflower has a beauty all its own. So do people.

And look for good in the myriad situations of life.

God is the ultimate good-finder. God so loved us that he became one of us. Think of all the people that Jesus met; he recognized goodness in each person, no matter how shabby their appearance. We are called to see beneath appearances the image of God.

Pray this Advent season that God will help those who doubt to find faith; those who despair to find hope; those who are weak to find courage; those who are sick to find healing; those who are sad or depressed or angry to find joy; those who wander to find the way; and those who have died to find eternal life in God.

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