Well before our season of Advent begins, our world is surrounded by ads and other reminders of a commercialised Christmas season. The church, however asks us to spend the time reflecting on the mystery of Jesus’ Advent – meaning ‘coming to’ us –born as a human being.
A second theme of Advent is a reminder of a final end of this world, with the ‘Second Coming’ of Jesus. Thirdly, Jesus ‘comes to us’ whenever we are aware of his presence. Thus the Advent prayer is one we can repeat at any time: ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’
The first reading points to the ‘First Coming’ of Jesus as Son of David, our Saviour. It is the Advent theme that probably most find more congenial than the warnings of the End Times which will come later in this mass. This selection is from the part of Jeremiah called ‘The Book of Consolation’, which follows the many prophecies of disaster and exile that the prophet had the unhappy task of delivering.
The image of ‘branch’ for a descendant is found several places in the Old Testament, and the same idea has entered our language, with the idea of a ‘family tree’. David is seen as the root stock, the King to whom God promised an everlasting line. A series of faithless and disastrous kings had almost wiped out that hope, but now Jeremiah repeats it. At the time of his writing, the land was divided between the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah, but here they are described as united by the coming perfect Branch of David. Christians see that prophecy fulfilled in Jesus with a very different kind of kingdom.
‘Integrity’ or ‘righteousness’ will be the description to fit the new kingdom, and it will be based on God rather than human accomplishments. Jesus will call it ‘the Kingdom of God.’
Psalm 24/25:4-5, 8-10, 14
The psalm looks ahead to the next readings on living in holiness. In the first verses, the psalmist seeks to know what God asks of us, and to be guided by that. Next the confidence we can have that God does indeed show the right ways, guiding and teaching, especially the humble and poor. The last verses affirm the closeness of God to those who faithfully follow the way, with the image of intimacy as being close to God as to a friend.
1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2
This is probably the earliest book of the New Testament, written by Paul to his converts in the capital city of Macedonia. His Letters to churches he had founded combine prayers, praise, teaching, and sometime correcting. Paul tried to give an example of Christian living, and often calls on those to whom he wrote to imitate him in that. At this time Paul expected that ‘Second Coming’ of Jesus would be in the near future, and thus part of his prayer refers to being ready for the end. He then urges them to make even more progress than they have. This is a typical idea in Paul, combining praise for what they are doing with a reminder that his readers should not rest in their present state, but keep growing in love and virtue.
The translation of ‘the whole human race’ has a modern tone – the Greek says ‘all’. It is important to Paul that communities are based on loving each other, but also our love is to extend beyond that to all people. It is a message needed in our times as well, in a world so often drawing boundaries, and so much public blaming and ‘hate speech’.
Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
Our first selection from St. Luke in ‘his’ Year C does not start at the beginning of the gospel. The liturgical celebration takes its own themes, rather than going through a gospel from beginning to end as one would in reading the book.
Today’s selection comes near the end in Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem and is a parallel of what we heard from Mark last week. (The first three Gospels share much common material, and thus are called ‘Synoptics’ from the Greek meaning ‘seeing together.’ Each evangelist, however, has their own special emphasis and theological shading.) These are a few verses from the longer discourse of Jesus which began with a prediction of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, as in last week’s Gospel. Jesus first warned that the Roman war against Jerusalem would bring terrible hardships for the people of that time. Now, using the typical ‘stage setting’ language of apocalyptic writing, he names natural disasters expected as part of the final end. Luke makes it even more dramatic than Mark, describing that it will be so frightening that people are ‘breathless’ or ‘fainting’ with fear.
The image of the Son of Man coming in power and great glory is in all three Synoptic gospels and taken from the Book of Daniel, but only Luke tells his disciples that instead of being fearful, they are to look up in anticipation for what is coming is their liberation or redemption.
Luke also has changed the plural ‘clouds’ of Daniel to ‘cloud’ which may be an echo of the cloud at the Transfiguration (9:34) which indicated the presence of God the Father. Luke also the author of Acts mentions in 1:9-11, a single ‘cloud’ which carried Jesus out of sight of the apostles at his Ascension. There is also a cloud that came down on Moses on Sinai, again indicating the presence or ‘glory’ of God. (Exodus 24:15-16.) Luke makes many such allusions which show his sense of the continuity in God’s plan of salvation.
Jesus concludes the long address with a personal application: because the end is certainly coming, his disciples are not to live as those without faith and hope – anxious over problems and daily cares, given to doubtful ‘pleasures’ like drunkenness. It can be hard for busy people to live in such constant hope as Luke advises, but for Luke the way to be ready is prayer. More than the other gospels he will show Jesus praying, and will urge us to follow that example.
An introduction to the whole Gospel of Luke will come after Christmas.