It may surprise some of us that the Scripture readings on this First Sunday of Advent do not refer at all to the birth of Jesus at Christmas – which is what most well-meaning Catholics look forward to in this season. These readings, especially the Gospel, have nothing sentimental to them, but rather are quite sobering. They reveal to us the deeper meaning of Advent.
Yes, “Advent” means “coming” – the coming of Christ – but not only on the day of his birth. Christ Jesus came once in the flesh, born as a baby who in time shed his Blood on the Cross, died and rose from the dead. He comes to us now, especially in the Holy Eucharist. He will come again at the end of time to judge and reward us. His first coming in the flesh and his constant coming to us in the present – in the Sacraments, through suffering, and in the needy – serve to prepare us for the important future coming – the “Second Coming” – when he will judge the living and the dead. One important dimension of the mission of the Church founded by Jesus is to prepare us for his Second Coming, so that we will be ready for Judgment Day and prepared to receive our eternal reward. This preparation is at the heart of the liturgical season of Advent.
Therefore, today’s readings focus on the Second Coming – pointing us to what matters most and inviting us, as a result, to think about and prepare seriously for the great meeting with our just Judge and Savior. Whether we would like to think about it or not, there will surely be a “particular judgment” when each one of us dies (cf. CCC 1022) and a “Last Judgment” when Christ returns in glory (cf. CCC 1040). We can interpret today’s Gospel as referring to both of these future moments. No one knows exactly when he or she will die, and no one knows exactly when the Second Coming will take place. While we are occupied with the ordinary affairs of daily life, the Lord will come suddenly for judgment and separate the just from the wicked. This separation is the meaning of the expression, “one will be taken, and one will be left,” which is repeated in today’s Gospel. It has nothing to do with the “rapture” of individuals that some Evangelical Christians go on about. The separation of one working man from another, or of one working woman from another, is simply a way of describing the great separation that will take place at the Last Judgment, at the Second Coming of the Lord.
The Lord is teaching us that we should no longer live our ordinary life as if there are no “last things” – Death, Judgment, Heaven or Hell – but should rather live in the light of his Second Coming and the reality of our future and everlasting life. For this reason, St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians urges: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).
Looking forward to and preparing for the Second Coming – or the “Second Advent” – is an expression of the virtue of hope which brings joy. Inspired by God, the prophet Isaiah announces in today’s first reading the divine promise on which our hope is based: that God himself will gather into the heavenly Jerusalem countless people from every nation who, during their earthly pilgrimage, have followed his ways. This is what we look forward to – being with God in Heaven, in the company of his saints. Our Advent joy flows from this hope. As the Psalmist says: “I rejoiced because they said to me, ‘We will go up to the house of the LORD.’”
To enter into joy we must resist and reject the enemies of our hope. In view of the Second Coming, St. Paul, in today’s second reading, invites us to repentance and vigilance, and beautifully says, “Throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; …. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” His mention of “armor” alerts us that we are in a serious spiritual battle, and therefore we need to redouble our efforts to be conformed with Christ, so that the fruit of our season of Advent will be a share in his victory. The reality of the Last Judgment with its call to repentance and vigilance, and the image of putting on the “armor of light” answer the question of whether there is a penitential aspect to Advent. Paul makes it clear that we cannot prepare for the victory of light unless we are actively striving to throw off all the works of darkness.
Regarding the Last Judgment, the Catechism states: “The message of the Last Judgment calls men to conversion while God is still giving them ‘the acceptable time, … the day of salvation.’ It inspires a holy fear of God and commits them to the justice of the Kingdom of God. It proclaims the ‘blessed hope’ of the Lord’s return, when he will come ‘to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed’” (CCC 1041). The joy of this “blessed hope” fills our hearts as we begin the season of Advent.
What are the anxieties of my daily life that hinder me from striving for the things of eternal life? With God’s grace, how will I “throw off the works of darkness” and “put on the armor of light” this Advent? How does the hope of God’s divine promise of eternal life inspire me to lead a life of holiness?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 1. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.