Our first Gospel reading for the new liturgical cycle presents Jesus speaking to his disciples about the coming of the “Son of Man” for the final judgement, indicated by his mentioning “signs”, both in the cosmic and human realms.
He urges his followers to see in these events the heralding of their redemption, the definitive establishing of the kingdom of God; therefore, they should respond positively with confidence and eager anticipation.
There is no time-frame given for the events which Luke describes. By the time he is writing, it is clear that the second coming may be long delayed, so the disciples have to settle down to life in the meantime. This can lead to their becoming complacent and slipping into bad habits, so the reading also gives instruction about remaining alert. Some of the warnings Luke has given earlier find an echo here, for instance, that of the parable of the steward who abuses his position over the household, thinking that the owner is not likely to arrive anytime soon; and the parable of the seed which is choked by thorns, interpreted as “the worries and riches and pleasures of life” which stifle a wholehearted response to the word of God, not to mention indulging excessively in drink and dissolute behaviour. He prefaces all this by the instruction to keep praying, which will keep them in the proper attitude to welcome the arrival of the Son of Man.
The word “Advent” means approach, arrival, coming. The liturgy in these four weeks leading up to the celebration of Christmas invites us to reflect on two comings of Christ. The first is Christ’s coming into our world as one of us “in every way except sin”. The second, less comfortable coming is at the end of time, when Christ will appear in glory as universal judge. We can see from the earliest writings of the apostle Paul that the first disciples expected the second coming to take place within their lifetime, then had to come to terms with the fact that this was growing more and more unlikely.
The greatest danger, perhaps, is that we become, unintentionally, complacent, that indeed the cares and problems of daily life can gradually weaken our commitment to living as disciples of Jesus. Thus, the season of Advent encourages us to prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the first coming, as though we were expecting his final appearing: the Prefaces of the Mass for Advent put it this way; “that, when he comes again in glory and majesty… we who watch for that day may inherit the great promise in which now we dare to hope”; and “so that he may find us watchful in prayer and exultant in his praise”.
Advent, like Lent, is a penitential season in which we are encouraged to look at ourselves and correct anything which detracts from our full commitment to the person of Jesus and his teachings. It is a time to renew and strengthen our relationship with Jesus.
- The word “Advent” means coming, arrival, approach.
- The season of Advent has two themes: the coming of Christ in our human flesh at
Christmas and Christ’s second coming in power and glory for judgement.
- Advent is a penitential season to prepare for the feast of the Incarnation: hence purple
vestments and the omission of the Gloria at Mass.
Pay close attention to the Preface of the Mass during Advent; read it over at home and notice the references to the second coming of Christ.