Summary: This Advent, try to spend more time and effort and even money in preparing yourself and helping others to welcome the Lord at Christmas than you spend on presents.

First Sunday of Advent 2018

Jeremiah has to be one of the saddest prophets of any age of the Hebrew people. His message could be summarized in one word–disaster. It was a disaster for the people who were delivered from Egypt by God through Moses, who were led through the desert, given the land of Israel and promised a Messiah to constantly turn their backs on God. Over and over, prophet after prophet had implored the kings to put aside the worship of false gods, to avoid injustice to the poor and rightly worship the One True God. But in almost every generation, both king and people did just the opposite. So God called Jeremiah to preach the truth one last time, and to tell everyone that they were about to reap the harvest of their disastrous apostasy in political disaster. They did not listen; they did not change. Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed and the people were dragged into exile by the Babylonians. Jeremiah himself was taken into exile in Egypt and died there.

But in the passage we just heard, right smack in the middle of Jeremiah, there are words of hope, promises of restoration. The promise made ages before to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, to Moses and David, would be fulfilled. Instead of the piteous excuses of leaders like Manasseh and Zedekiah, God would raise up a righteous Branch from the House of David, one who would act in every way justly, one who would save all. We begin Advent by proclaiming to the whole world that this righteous Branch is Jesus Christ, Son of God, who saved us through His passion, death and resurrection, and offers to us a share in the very life of God through the sacraments of His Church. We proclaim this message to all those who will listen.

The words of Jesus that St. Luke reports in today’s Gospel are, frankly, terrifyingly apocalyptic. They are also true. There will be a final judgement of the world, of all those who are mired in sinful habits. The phrases Jesus uses to describe those final moments are also used by the OT prophets. Awesome signs would be seen in the heavens and on the earth–a seeming return of the chaos God put into order in the beginning. It will all be scary to those who have turned their backs on God’s law of love, who have abused themselves and others. But for those who have Christ as their leader, just the opposite applies. Instead of masking their fears with dissipation, drugs and alcohol, we are asked to lift up our heads. Our redemption is near. The gift of hope allows us to know that we will be among the sheep gathered to the Lord’s celestial wedding banquet, not goats consigned to be diabolical cabrito.

So what is our task this Advent? Unlike Lent, which is primarily a time of penance that prepares us for the reception of new Catholics during the Easter Vigil, Advent is a time of preparation. Yes, we should pray, read spiritual books, especially the prophets like Isaiah, give alms and fast. But we should also take special time to pray that the Gospel message sink into the hearts of Christians and non-Christians alike. We should support works of evangelization, and bring Christ as much as possible into our daily lives, our daily contacts. We really have to be missionaries to our world. That’s what St. Paul is telling the Thessalonians and us today. We have to increase and abound in love both to fellow Catholics and to all men and women. We need to attract others to the beauty, truth and goodness of Jesus and Mary, and do it with joy and enthusiasm.

St Paul goes even further, though. He exhorts: “as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, you do so more and more.” More and more? One of the best Christians I know asked me one time why she was the one who is always being asked to change. And so we all from time to time, if we’ve been around the Jesus track for many years might ask, “when is enough going to be enough?” When, indeed, can we stop changing?

Well, let me attempt to answer both questions. The first question is why am I the one who God is asking to change? The obvious answer is that I am the only one whose behavior is under my control. The grace of God is given to me so that I may become more and more every day like Jesus and Mary. That’s why daily we all should pray as Jesus taught us, “Thy will be done. . .forgive us our offenses as we forgive all who offend us.” That requires me to every day humbly acknowledge that the only thing I can do by myself is dig myself into a spiritual hole. That requires me to every day humbly ask God for the grace, the power, the virtue I need to forgive those who hurt me, even if they don’t ask for that forgiveness. That requires me every day to look for ways to encourage, console and help others to see the truth, to do the good, and to do so beautifully.

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