Sunday Scripture: Please God and be ready
By Father Timothy P. Schehr
First Sunday of Advent: Jeremiah 33:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2; Luke 21:25-26
On the liturgical calendar this Sunday marks the start of a new year.Yet as we listen to the Gospel for this first Sunday of Advent, we hear Jesus telling His disciples not about beginnings but about endings. This whole conversation gets underway with the casual observation about the beauty of the Jerusalem temple. Jesus takes that occasion to give a lesson about the passing glory of earthly wonders, even things as impressive as the great temple Herod spent so many years refurbishing.
The Lord is not being a pessimist; He is being a realist. He wants His followers to understand they should stay focused on fundamental things that are not limited by time. What sort of things is He talking about? The things associated with the kingdom of God. What better way to start another liturgical year that celebrates the gift of salvation from the King of kings?
The lights of heaven — the sun and the stars — are so constant we use them to measure time. But they will not shine forever Astronomers speak of stars, near the end of their time, heating up at the core and expanding to become red giants. And imagine the waters of the seas so ignoring the boundaries of the shore the nations of the world are thrown into dismay. The things of earth are so very transitory.
But Jesus wants His followers to look beyond all of this turmoil and concentrate instead at the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with great power and glory.For the Lord’s faithful people all of this turmoil is not an end but a beginning. Daniel spoke of this centuries before the Lord’s birth. He spoke about the ultimate victory of the Son of Man, a spiritual leader who would be given dominion and power over all. So the faithful disciples of Jesus have nothing to worry about. In fact, Jesus tells them they should stand tall and look expectantly upwards. The kingdom they dedicated their lives to has arrived.
Jesus does not want His followers wasting time with forecasts and predictions. His sound advice is to be ready for “the great day” whenever it arrives. Obsession with the things of this world is the wrong way to go for anyone who follows the Lord. Such things may distract for a while but they will not ultimately satisfy. What will satisfy is God’s eternal kingdom. Obsessions should be set aside and replaced with prayer and service to God. And what to pray for? For the strength that comes with a right relationship with God. For the strength to stand confidently before the Son of Man who has been given dominion over all.
The prophet Jeremiah would surely have understood the kind of security Jesus was talking about. Jeremiah witnessed the complete failure of plans that did not include God. He lived through those terrible final days of the kingdom of Judah. He saw the first temple pillaged and destroyed by the army of Babylon. He was no dreamer but a realist. He knew the only secure foundation for a future would come with total reliance on God. So he looked way beyond his own time to a brighter day when a just shoot would spring up from what remained of the royal house of David.
Paul gives the same advice in his letter to the church in Thessalonica. He urges his readers to please God in everything they say and do. In this way they will be found blameless and holy when the Lord comes at the end of time.
Father Schehr is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.