First Sunday in Advent – Year B
December 03, 2023 – 10:30 AM
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community, Palm Springs CA
Rev. David Justin Lynch
Isaiah 63:16B-17;64:2-7 Psalm 80:2-3;15-16;18-19
I Corinthians 1:3-9 Mark 13:33-37
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
Happy New Year! Some of you would say I am greeting you prematurely by twenty-nine days, but the First Sunday in Advent begins the liturgical year that will end on November twenty-second in twenty-twenty-four with the Feast of Christ the King. That day, incidentally, is also our Patronal Feast, that of Saint Cecilia. We will celebrate that particular Sunday in all its glory with extra singers and instrumentalists. Oh, and by the way, Christmas will be on a convenient Wednesday instead of an inconvenient Monday.
What is Advent? Much as the corporate retail world would like it to be, Advent is not the Christmas season. And Advent is not, and I emphasize, not, a penitential season. Yes, I know, traditional Christians think Advent is penitential, but if you examine the readings for the four Sundays of Advent, none of them talk about sorrow for sin. Instead, they proclaim a time of new beginnings for us as the Body of Christ, that is, the community of all Christians under the lordship of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who once again comes among us in great humility to cast away the works of darkness with the armor of his light.
The blue vestments that we use during Advent connect us with the majesty of the God-created universe and remind us of the joyful connection between Jesus and the cosmos, as contrasted with the sad introspective contrition of Lent for which purple is an appropriate color.
During the Advent Season, we not only ready ourselves for the coming of Jesus at Christmas but also for the Second Coming of Jesus among us. Many early Christians believed that Jesus was certain to reappear on earth. You can see this in the apocalyptic passages in all three synoptic Gospels and in First Thessalonians. The possibility of a Second Coming gave them hope and comfort in the face of persecution.
The word theologians use to describe the Second Coming is “parousia,” a Greek word meaning “presence” or “arrival.” It has also been called, “The Day of the Lord,” an event which, in ancient times, was associated with terrifying scenes, terrible fears, horrible paralyzing ghosts, and bewildering apocalyptic visions.
The more rational among us point out that there is no objective evidence to support a physical reappearance of Jesus, yet some Christians have often attempted to predict the exact time, place, and manner of the Second Coming, albeit unsuccessfully. How many times have you heard on television, or read in a newspaper, that the world will end on a particular day?
The people engaging in such speculation are known as “millennialists.” Their message is, “You’d better get your act together because Judgment Day will be sooner rather than later.” While we may regard millennialists as crazy kooks, they are not altogether outside mainstream Christian doctrine. The big difference, however, between us and millennialists, is that we are not so presumptuous to know exactly when, where, or how Jesus will return. Today’s Gospel simply implores us to be ready for it. It is often called the “Olivet Discourse,” and if you look in your Bible and read the rest of chapter thirteen, you will encounter the teachings of Jesus about the future and the signs of the end times.
But as with everything else that relates to God, we let those things remain a mystery. God has told us nothing about when, how, and where the Second Coming will occur. God always deeply disappoints those who seek certainty.
The people of Israel in the sixth century before Christ described in today’s first reading were wondering in great uncertainty about their future. They had just returned to their homeland after years of exile in Babylon. They were wandering away from God, yet at the same time, they were longing for God. That is what kept them spiritually awake. Like it was for them, our longing for God motivates us to stay spiritually awake and ready for God.
The people of Israel, and the audience Jesus was addressing had something in common: they were awaiting divine intervention to fix adversity. The people of Israel were lamenting their situation and looking for God to open the heavens and drop down, while the disciples of Jesus addressed in today’s Gospel were told to be ready for Jesus to come back at any moment. First Century Christians were persecuted by the Roman Empire, and Jews returning from Babylon, lived in troubled times where it seemed like God had vanished.
Today’s world presents itself as a place from which God has vanished. Contemporary journalists report on the events of today’s world with no reference to God while describing the war in the Middle East, the deteriorating state of racial and interfaith relations, and the growing spread of the cancer of poverty everywhere. Like the people described in the first reading, we too are wandering around in uncertainty, all the while longing for God, as we search for answers and seek comfort from a power greater than ourselves.
The audience for today’s Gospel was his disciples during the last week of his life. They felt a strong premonition that Jesus would be seized and killed. While the Resurrection brought back the spiritual body of Jesus, they longed to experience him in the flesh once again. Uppermost on their minds was the question, “When would Jesus return?”
Advent is our time of longing for Jesus to come back to us. However, I don’t see the Second Coming of Jesus as the supernatural event the millennialists imagine. The second coming of Jesus for which I long will be the completion of the work he began when He was born. The incarnation of Jesus was but the beginning of the coming of the Kingdom of God. The Second Coming will be the total victory of that Kingdom, that Day of the Lord when all things will be made new, all things made right.
The coming of the Kingdom of God will be a time of reversal when the mighty will be put down from their seat when the humble and meek will be exalted, when the hungry will be filled with good things, and the rich sent empty away, and where the greatest among us will be those who serve, rather than those who use their power to dominate others.
Advent introduces the expression of our faith in the possibility of a better world in the coming church year. Advent calls us to become beacons of social justice, icons of love, and examples of peacemakers. In the coming weeks, we will hear stories of John the Baptist calling us to repentance, to turn around, to go a different direction. The victory and fulfillment of the Kingdom of God starts with Jesus pushing us off our present, comfortable tracks to be fully open to His message.
Over the next four weeks, we anticipate the coming of Jesus at Christmas as a human baby. Eventually, his exaltation as king of the universe will give us hope that life will not always be as it is now and instead bring to us a new heaven and a new earth where the homeless are housed, the hungry are fed, the infirm are healed, the ignorant are educated, and the spiritual longing of the soul to experience music and art will be satisfied.
Let us pray throughout Advent, “Maranatha! Come, Jesus, Come.” AMEN.