Advent season: prayer, penance and longing for God

DECEMBER 1, 2019 FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT (Lec. 1)         

1)         Isaiah 2:1-5

2)         Romans 13:11-14

3)         Matthew 24:37-44 Gospel related: CCC 673

FOCUS:    Jesus wants us to use the Advent season wisely – with prayer, penance and longing for God.

Adventus in Latin means to await the arrival of someone or something of great importance. For Christians, this season is very much identified with preparations for the birth of Christ, so much so that the second meaning of Advent is often diminished, that of preparing for the Second Coming of Christ in Glory. The readings that begin the Advent season capture that second meaning more than the first. 

Isaiah was prophesying at a particularly dark time for Israel and Judah. It was nearly eight centuries before the coming of the Messiah. The chosen people were under attack from the Assyrians marching from their capital city Nineveh in the north. What was to follow would be a long period of war, exile and bloodshed. To shine a light into this darkness, Isaiah was given a message of hopefulness to help God’s people keep the faith during their time of affliction.

Wars will end, the suffering will give way once more to glory, when swords would become plowshares and spears would be pruning hooks. Jerusalem will be restored, the Temple rebuilt andall nations shall stream toward it. Isaiah was given a double prophecy – the people would return to their land in the near future, but in the distance, God promised to bring them to the new and heavenly Jerusalem where it will be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. It is quite simply the hope of heaven, and in the Savior who will bring it about. Armed with that powerful hope, Isaiah tells his countrymen: Let us walk in the light of the Lord!

When Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome, for them it was also a time of darkness and uncertain futures. The Church was being persecuted in its infancy, something Paul knew well as he himself was once the cause of the Christian’s pain. Like Isaiah, Paul points to a brighter future for those who endure the cross – they will one day wear the crown of righteousness. He encourages the Christians at Rome to throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The same can be said for us today. Our suffering is earthly, but our hope is eternal. Advent calls us to put on the Lord Jesus Christ and let him guide us to himself and to the kingdom.

In today’s Gospel from Matthew, Jesus is also facing a time of testing and challenge. It is Wednesday of Holy Week. He will soon experience betrayal and abandonment and will be put on trial, sentenced to die and led out to the cross. He knew the hour of his passing, the means by which it would occur, and by whose hand the deed would be committed. We, however, do not receive that same knowledge:for you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Therefore, Jesus admonishes all to be awake and alert, preparing for the end of our lives, the end of the world and his second coming in glory. We must learn from those in Scripture and throughout history who did nothing to prepare themselves.

Jesus wants us to use the Advent season wisely, not only to prepare for the coming of Christmas, but with prayer, penance and longing for God, to prepare for the coming of Christ, as a baby and as a king.