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December 2, 2012 - First Sunday of Advent

Jer 33:14-16; 1 Thes 3:12-4:2; Lk 21:25-28, 34-36

November 30, 2012

With this Sunday we begin the season of Advent, one of the most beautiful periods of the Church's liturgical year. With the sounds of Christmas carols surrounding us in malls and on the radio, we can easily assume that Advent is meant solely to prepare us for the great feast of Christmas (so get shopping!). While that is true, it is not the complete story. Advent, in fact, is meant to remind us of three great "arrivals" (the literal meaning of the Latin word "adventus"): 1. The coming of Christ two thousand years ago in Bethlehem; 2. The coming of Christ at the end of time; and 3. The coming of Christ into our everyday lives of faith.
 
The readings for this Sunday give special attention to the second and third types of "arrivals." The reading from Luke's Gospel is part of a discourse that Jesus gives during his final days of teaching in the Jerusalem Temple. In this magnificent setting - a building that was truly one of the wonders of the world in the first century - Jesus warns his disciples that the great stones and beautiful decorations of this temple would one day cease to be. Even something that seemed so permanent and sacred as the Temple would not endure. Jesus goes on to reflect on the final destiny of humanity. There would be conflict and suffering but the final endpoint is not chaos or emptiness but the coming of the Son of Man "with power and great glory." When that happens, Jesus tells his followers, "stand erect and raise you heads because your redemption is at hand."
 
Taken as a whole, the Scriptures are concerned with two fundamental questions: First, Where did we come from? And What is our ultimate origin? And second, Where are we going? What is our ultimate destiny? In fact, the Biblical saga sees a link between "origins" and "ends". Our origin is in the creative act of a loving God who is not content to be "alone" or solitary but who creates abundant and beautiful life. The supreme creation, according to the Bible, is the human being, male and female, creatures yes, but made in the image and likeness of God, filled with divine life and able, like God, to love and to be loved.

If that act of creative love is our ultimate origin, a return to that vortex of love that is God is our true destiny. Although it uses many different metaphors to express it, the Scriptures see the final destiny of the human family as communion with the God of love who first created it. This is the central message of Jesus himself, the Word made flesh, who in the beautiful prologue of John's Gospel is presented as coming from the heart of God, becoming flesh and dwelling among us, and then himself returning to loving communion with the Father who sent him. Thus Jesus Christ reveals that, at their deepest level, our lives have purpose and meaning. The canon of the Scriptures reflects this: the story begins with the account of creation in Genesis and ends with the Book of Revelation and its vision of a new and astoundingly beautiful Jerusalem, the dwelling place of God with humanity where there will be no more tears and no more death.
 
All three of our readings this Sunday long for that final day where love rules and death is defeated. And all three remind us what we must do in the meantime: being awake and alert to the presence of God's grace all around us; living lives of integrity and justice; conducting ourselves in a way that pleases God. Advent reminds us that we are not to live our lives in fear nor indulge in idle speculation about the timing of the end of the world. We should not waste our time with anxious doomsday predictions but, rather, have a sense of hope and purpose and be committed to living lives worthy of God's intense love for us. The true Advent - and Christian - stance is found in Jesus' words: "Stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand."

Fr. Donald Senior, CP
President, Professor of New Testament Studies

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