First Sunday of Advent

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Isaiah 2:1-5

This is what Isaiah, son of Amoz,
saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In days to come,
the mountain of the LORD’s house
shall be established as the highest mountain
and raised above the hills.
All nations shall stream toward it;
many peoples shall come and say:
“Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may instruct us in his ways,
and we may walk in his paths.”
For from Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and impose terms on many peoples.
They shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
one nation shall not raise the sword against another,
nor shall they train for war again.
O house of Jacob, come,
let us walk in the light of the Lord!

Matthew 24:37-44

Jesus said to his disciples:
“As it was in the days of Noah,
so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
In those days before the flood,
they were eating and drinking,
marrying and giving in marriage,
up to the day that Noah entered the ark.
They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away.
So will it be also at the coming of the Son of Man.
Two men will be out in the field;
one will be taken, and one will be left.
Two women will be grinding at the mill;
one will be taken, and one will be left.
Therefore, stay awake!
For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.
Be sure of this: if the master of the house
had known the hour of night when the thief was coming,
he would have stayed awake
and not let his house be broken into.
So too, you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

Today, of course, is the First Sunday of Advent, and Advent is a season of joyful expectation. The readings the Church has selected for today fill us with this joyful expectation.

Isaiah’s prophecy speaks of the “days to come” when the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain. In ancient religious traditions, the mountain is where the deity or the deities made their dwelling, so the Lord’s mountain being made the highest mountain means that all false gods will be exposed as such, and the Lord will be recognized as the God who is God. Jerusalem, the city on a hill, will overshadow all other competing fonts of wisdom and knowledge and devotion. All people, then, will turn to it and to it alone for instruction on how to serve the Lord and live in righteousness: to know His ways and walk in His paths. The Lord will make good on their desire to be instructed and He will provide justice and order for all people. Because all nations will live according to the instruction of the Lord, universal peace will reign and there will be no need for the weapons of war, so these weapons will be turned to peaceful use.

This is the promise of the coming of the Lord. It is the promise of Advent, when we prepare for the coming of Christ in Bethlehem, but also for His Second Coming. With His coming at Bethlehem, all people are called to turn their hearts to the Lord, to be transformed according to His will, even as we continue to live in a world darkened by sin and broken by disobedience. Called to follow the light of Christ and to dare to follow God’s paths rather than the path of destruction paved by a culture of death and a culture of relativism, those who are faithful Christ will declare victorious when He comes again.

It is that Second Coming of which Jesus speaks in today’s Gospel passage. Just as in the time of Noah, when people did not attend to God or expect His justice, but lived their lives as if God didn’t matter, just so will the inhabitants of the world be caught unaware when He comes again to bring mercy and justice – mercy to those who have been faithful and justice to those who have not.

Our station in life will not determine our fate before God. Two men working at the same task will have different destinies. Two women working at the same task will have different destinies. Rich or poor, famous or unknown, socially connected or detached, right or left, black or white or brown or other – none of this will matter when the Lord comes to judge all according to their deeds and according to His righteousness.

When will this happen? We don’t know. We don’t know when the Lord will come for all of us. Furthermore, you don’t know when the Lord will come for you, and I don’t know when the Lord will come for me. He will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. If we knew when He was coming, we would prepare. Since we don’t know the day or the hour of His coming, we ought to be prepared at all times.

How do we prepare for the coming of the Lord? By knowing His ways and walking in His paths.

Where do we find instruction on the Lord’s ways and paths? He has revealed them to us in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. As Catholics our faith is that God can be known because He has revealed to us the truth about Himself. That revelation is given to us, not by personal revelation or insight, but through Jesus’ Church, which St. Paul calls “the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Tim 3:15), and the instrument by which “the manifold wisdom of God may now be made known” (Eph 3:10).

Jesus Christ gave His revelation to His apostles. Built on the rock that is St. Peter, the Church of the apostles preached the gospel throughout the Mediterranean world and, according to tradition, as far as Russia and India. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you” (1 Cor 11:23a). It is because the apostles were faithful in their transmission of the truth they received from the Lord that we profess in our creed to believe in “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” Our faith is the faith of the apostles, and we are able today to call ourselves Christians and prepare to celebrate the birth of our Lord because of their fidelity to the revelation they received from Jesus Himself. What better way to know His ways and follow His paths than to dedicate this liturgical year to reading through the Scriptures or the Catechism of the Catholic Church?

The first question we should ask ourselves in consideration of our relationship with the Almighty is not, “What do I believe about God?” The first question to ask is, “What has God revealed to us about Himself, especially as regards our relationship with Him and our salvation?” The answer to that question is found in the revelation faithfully handed on to us by the apostles: God loves us and desires that the alienation from Him that we suffer because of the disobedience of Adam be healed and that we be reconciled to Him. The means that He has created to restore us to Himself is the perfect obedience, even onto death, of His Son, Jesus Christ. This is why God became man at Bethlehem. Because man’s disobedience was against God, the justice we owed to the Father because of our sins was too high for any mere mortal to satisfy. So, God had to satisfy it. But because our alienation was the result of man’s disobedience, a man had to answer for it. The solution was that God became man in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus, who is God, was able to satisfy the justice required of our sins. Jesus, who is man, was able to counter man’s disobedience by His perfect obedience.

The Advent season is a season of joy and penance. We are joyful at the wondrous gift God has given us in the person of Jesus, who is fully human and fully divine, born to restore us to God’s friendship. We do penance to prepare our hearts to celebrate properly Christ’s First Coming, even as we prepare for His Second Coming. When He does return on the clouds to fulfill His promise, it will be a day of great joy to all who were dedicated to knowing His ways and walking in His paths.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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