First Sunday of Advent – November 28, 2021

Today’s gospel passage for this First Sunday of Advent taken from Saint Luke focuses our attention on the promised return of Christ at the end of time. Hence, its invitation – its challenge – “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Yet, for all of its focus on the end of this world as we know it, Luke includes this apocalyptic message in his gospel to serve as a source of consolation for those in the early Church who were suffering because of their faith. The conviction that the world would one day be transformed and that God’s people would reign with the risen Jesus in glory was meant to provide them with a horizon of hope against which they could interpret and accept their sufferings as well as to help them find meaning and purpose in their efforts to live as disciples of Jesus in the present.

In so many respects, the struggles, sufferings and hopes of the earliest members of the Church haven’t changed all that much, even with the passing of two millennia. Look at what we’re up against these days. We still have reasons to look for comfort and consolation in the midst of the turmoil of our world and the brokenness of our lives, don’t we.

While the gospel writer draws our attention to the coming of the Lord at the end of our material world, he clearly challenges us to have hope in the midst of the darkness that we so often experience – here and now! “Be vigilant!” Look for opportunities to encounter and serve the presence of the Lord when he comes!

Don’t underestimate for a minute the need for us to bring the gospel’s focus on the end-times into the present reality of our lives. I’m not suggesting that if we look carefully enough at the circumstances that are unfolding in our world, our nation, our Church and our lives that we’ll find convincing evidence of the fulfillment of end-times references in the scriptures.

What I am saying, however, is that life has a way of weaving end-times struggles into our experiences. Every time we gather for Mass, there is someone in our midst who is engaged in a battle that is beyond description, someone who is living a story of endurance and perseverance. You know who you are! Every time we come here, there are words from your life and mine that start to sound like the end-times.

Not sure what I mean?  What about these words:  “Coronavirus.“ … Alzheimer’s.”  …  “Opioids.”  …  “Unemployment.”  …  “Sexual abuse.”  …  “Suicide.”  …  “Hospice.”  …  “Depression.”

What I’m trying to say is that the signs and wonders referenced in the gospel on this First Sunday of Advent that point to the end-times don’t need to be explained or theologically spun. You already understand apocalyptic, end-times literature. You know it not because of the fact that you’re scripture scholars.  You know it because of life!

And what lies at the heart of our beliefs as Christians – as disciples of Jesus, whose coming we anticipate this Advent season?  …  “God so loved the world that he sent his only son into it – so that whoever believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”  …  Because of his life, death and resurrection, Jesus walks with us, carries our crosses with us and leads us to life and peace.

So, when Jesus says in today’s gospel, “Stand up.  Raise your heads.  Your redemption is drawing near,” believe with all your hearts that his message is meant for us this day and that we are called to experience his presence now!

And Jesus is present – in the Word of God proclaimed – in the love and service that the members of the Christian community extend to the lives that God places in their midst – and in the Eucharist that we share.  “This is my body broken for you.  This is my blood shed for you.”

As life unfolds in so many ways with its joys and opportunities, its pain and suffering, may our prayer at the beginning of this Advent-tide – and every day – be the simple prayer that concludes the Book of Revelation and that has consistently been proclaimed throughout this holy season:  “Come Lord Jesus.”  …  “Come and bring us your peace.”