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Sunday Scripture: Be vigilant

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

By Terrance Callan

First Sunday of Advent: Jeremiah 33:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2; Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

This Sunday we begin both a new liturgical year and our observance of the season of Advent, preparing to celebrate Christmas. Throughout much of Advent, the readings will remind us of the expectations of Israel that were fulfilled by the birth of Christ. But the readings for this first Sunday of Advent focus on our expectation of a second coming of Jesus at the end of the world.

This is most emphatic in the reading from the Gospel according to Luke. In this passage Jesus describes the end of the world and the coming of the Son of Man, i.e., the second coming of Jesus himself. This will be a time of turmoil and tribulation, but is a time that we should welcome because then our “redemption is at hand.”

In this passage Jesus not only predicts the end of the world, but also calls on us to live our lives in the light of our belief that Jesus will come again. He warns us that “carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life” may cause us to forget our hope that Jesus will return to complete our salvation. We should try to keep this hope before our minds so that we will always be ready for its fulfillment.

The reading from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians makes a similar point. In this reading Paul prays that God will make the hearts of the Thessalonians “blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His holy ones.” And he suggests that a key element in this is that the Thessalonians “abound in love for one another and for all.”

Together the Gospel reading and the reading from 1 Thessalonians invite us to make this Advent a time to recall our hope for the second coming of Jesus and to let this hope order our lives.

The reading from the Book of Jeremiah is an expression of the hopes of Israel that we believe were fulfilled by the birth of Jesus. However, in the context of the other two readings, we realize that the hope of Israel for redemption was only partly fulfilled by the first coming of Jesus. God’s salvation of Israel and the entire human race will only be complete at the second coming of Jesus. Thus we can see the passage from Jeremiah as a prediction both of the first coming of Jesus that we celebrate at Christmas, and of the second coming of Jesus that we now await.  At the second coming of Jesus “Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure,” and the whole human race will live forever in the peace of God.

Callan is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.

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