By Msgr. Joseph Calise
The imagery in today’s Gospel from Saint Luke should sound a bit familiar. Saint Mark’s version of the same discourse was the Gospel two Sunday’s ago. Although there are some differences, the basic message is the same: Stay alert, Christ is coming again at a time that we cannot predict.
It is not meant to sound threatening but alarming, in the sense that it is a wake-up call to vigilance. The uniqueness this weekend is that the call to watchfulness, to not allowing ourselves to become “drowsy,” is presented as our reflection on this First Sunday of Advent.
At first glance, Advent is the beginning of our liturgical preparation for Christmas. As true as that is, our faith teaches us that it is so much more. We celebrate Christmas because we believe in Easter. If the baby born in Bethlehem that starry night did not grow up, work His ministry, die on a cross and rise from the dead, we would not be celebrating Him now. But He did grow and minister, die and rise and as part of His mission He promised to come again.
On the other hand, however, if the Son of God, Who rose from the dead on Easter, had not been born of a woman and did not have a human nature to which we could relate then the birth in Bethlehem would have been unnecessary. The basic call to watchfulness in the Gospel is obviously not about the first coming but about Christ’s promise to return.
Advent, then, reminds us of the promise. We celebrate the first coming in Bethlehem because we await the Second Coming in glory. So, how do we stay awake?
The answer comes in a well-known phrase taken from Twelve Step Recovery — we stay alert “one day at a time.” If we believe that the Son of God was born in history and will return at the end of days, then we live in His imitation in the here and now. One day at a time, we strive to be the best reflection of Him that we can be.
If we learned the lessons Jesus taught — the basic lesson of loving God and one another because of our love for God — and we believe that following His example of love will prove us ready for a place in the kingdom for eternity, then it is in the time we have in the present that we are called to live that out.
In the poem, “Little Gidding”, the fourth of T. S. Eliot’s “The Four Quartets,” Eliot wrote, “What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where to start from.”
In “A Christmas Carol”, Dickens made a similar point by teaching us through the spirits that visited Ebenezer Scrooge that to be ready for the future we must learn the lessons of the past and live accordingly now.
As Christians we begin the season of Advent. We prepare to celebrate the unique arrival of Christ into our history as Emmanuel.
But we celebrate in the sure knowledge that He is also Christ the King, Who calls us to His service. To separate the crib and the cross is to understand neither.
Readings for the First Sunday of Advent
1 Thessalonians: 3:12—4:2
Luke: 21:25-28, 34-36
Msgr. Calise is the pastor of Transfiguration-St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, Maspeth.