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First Sunday Of Advent: Nov. 18, 2022

Our Scripture passage for this Sunday comes from the Gospel of Matthew 24:37–44. It is one of the apocalyptic passages of the New Testament. The word “apocalypse” really means to “un-veil” or “reveal” and refers to writings that give us insights into the mystery of God’s action and the divine will for our world. The Scripture passage for this week reveals the unknown nature of the timing of the coming of the Son of Man (also known as the Second Coming of Jesus). This weekend we celebrate the First Sunday of Advent and so begin a new year in the Church’s cycle of time.

One of the most important points being addressed in this passage concerns the timing of Jesus’ return. While the timing of our Lord’s second coming cannot be known, the fact of His return remains certain. This reality creates a certain tension and temptation for disciples. The tension exists in the fact that people can sometimes become distracted by the desire to calculate the timing of the Lord’s return. Such desires are intensified during milestone moments or traumatic events. This desire is fundamentally frustrating due to the impossibility for humans to know or decipher something the Father has reserved to Himself. The temptation can also be for disciples to procrastinate their growth in faith because of the false belief that they will always have time at the last minute to prepare themselves to meet Jesus. This reading tells us that those who wish to wait until the last minute to be prepared to greet the Lord will inevitably be unprepared to do so. Rather, it will catch them off guard like a thief in the night or like the people in the time of Noah who failed to use wisely the opportunities they had to prepare for the coming flood. “For, as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking (feasting and reveling without care or worry, ‘sporting as though no evil would ever befall them’ says Chrysostom)…”[1]

Advent is first and foremost a time of practical preparation to meet the Lord. We usually consider it to be a preparatory time for the celebration of Christmas, and so we tend to engage ourselves in the busy work of decorating, celebrating, and inviting family and friends to various events. That focus really misses the point. The Advent Time is really meant as a preparation for the coming of Jesus both personally and collectively. Every year we celebrate the first coming of our Lord as a babe in Bethlehem in order to remind us of God’s fidelity and how He fulfilled His promise to send us a savior. Because of that fidelity, we can trust Jesus’ promise to return again. Thus, we look to Jesus’ first coming as a way of reaffirming our faith in, and preparing for, His second coming. When we properly understand the intended purpose of Advent, then we can consider the many timely and appropriate ways in which we can use these weeks to spiritually prepare to meet the Lord.
How prepared are you to greet the Lord?
When in your life have you been the best prepared?
If the Lord told you that He would come for you today, how would you live this day differently from every other day?
Who is someone you know who lives prepared to meet the Lord every day?
What might you and your family do during this Advent time to make it a more effective experience of spiritual preparation?
Jesus also cautions us to be careful about focusing our attention on externals. Our Lord gives the specific examples of two situations in which people appeared to be very similar from all external observation but were actually quite different based on their interior dispositions of faith (see the story of the two men in the field and the two women grinding at the mill in Mt 24:40–41). What really distinguished those who were gathered to the Lord from those who were not gathered to the Lord was not so much what they were doing but rather the radical nature of their attachment to God. It is this interior and invisible quality of a person’s faith commitment that drew them close to the Lord in this life and brought them into eternal communion with God in heaven. Our preparation to meet the Lord, then, is not primarily a matter of taking on particular practices, additional devotions, or other external changes of behavior. These things will mean nothing if they do not spring from an intense interior life of loving devotion to the Lord. In fact, if prudence is not exercised, sometimes these practices can be moved by a subtle yet harmful pride that distorts the meaning of spiritual life.[2] For this reason, Jesus emphasizes that need for interior conversion and radical love for God from which a meaningful life of discipleship will naturally flow. Advent, then, is a time to draw close to the Lord in our daily prayer and to purify our hearts of the distractions and disordered affections that obstruct and impede our growth in holiness. This interior process of conversion can be far more difficult than merely changing our exterior actions for a few weeks, but it is also far more important. The interior change of life requires that we acknowledge our need for God because of our fallen and sinful state, see and recognize God’s love for us in our Lord’s saving and redeeming works — the greatest of which is the death and resurrection of Jesus — and pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts so that we can love God even as God loves us.
What is the growth in prayer you desire during this Advent time?
What are some of the obstacles or impediments you need to address so as to freely and deeply enter into communion with God?
When are you most mindful of God’s saving work in your life?
From what situations do you most pray for God to save you now?
How can you use this Advent time to foster that relationship with God in this life that you hope for in eternal life?
It is interesting that Jesus uses the image of a thief to describe Himself in the final verses of today’s passage. Our Lord’s coming was similarly likened to that of a thief in other New Testament passages, which attests to the predominance of this image in the life of the early Church (1 Thes 5:2, 2 Pt 3:10, Rev 3:3, Rev 16:15). Certainly we all identify with such a situation of pressing attentiveness. If we knew the hour then we would certainly be prepared lest disaster fall upon our household. Jesus used the image of a thief because sometimes people feel threatened by our Lord’s promise to return. When someone is not living their life in radical commitment to God and selfless love for others, then the coming of the Lord is a threat to their independence, private kingdoms, and self-pursuits. But when someone is in a deeply committed relationship with God, the coming of the Lord is like welcoming a long-awaited friend. Jesus used the image of a thief because our Lord did not need to motivate those already living lives of preparedness. Rather, our Lord needed to motivate those who were not living such spiritual readiness. Each time we pray the Lord’s Prayer we say, “Thy Kingdom come”. One day God will answer that prayer with the coming of the Son of Man. Of course, Jesus is really the master of the house rather than a thief who breaks in. When we forget our role as disciples and stewards, it is easy to mistakenly believe ourselves to be the master of our own lives. That’s when we perceive Jesus as a thief trying to take what we falsely believe to be ours rather than the Lord of all creation simply laying claim to what has always belonged to Him.
How does this understanding of Christian identity change the way you perceive your responsibility as a disciple?
Do you perceive the coming of Jesus with the image of welcoming a longed-for friend or fearing a thief in the night?
Will the Lord’s coming be the hope-filled answer to your prayer or a surprise to your prayer?
As we begin a new year in the life of the Church, this Sunday is always a good opportunity to stop and take inventory of our growth in faith this past year and to consider what growth we want to take place in the coming year. In short, it’s time to make a “New Year’s Resolution” for discipleship. Real growth happens when we intentionally look at where we are in our relationship with the Lord and identify the next steps to take so that we can dive more deeply into a life-giving relationship of loving faith. This would be a good subject for prayer during this week. Also, it is important to seek the counsel of others, especially spiritual mentors and ministry leaders, who can advise you on the best ways to pursue this spiritual growth. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a wonderful way to remove the impediments and obstacles that are holding you back from freely continuing your journey of discipleship, and Advent is a timely opportunity to celebrate the grace of forgiveness. Along with the internal growth in faith, any discipleship resolution should also manifest itself in an external way. In short, we should always act as though the Son of Man were to come today. In the Gospel of Matthew, our Lord stresses the specific need to manifest mercy for those in need and forgiveness of our enemies and those who offend us. In Matthew, our Lord also asks us to be makers of peace who bring the light of Christ into a darkened world.
What would you like to be different about your faith life one year from now?
What steps will you take to make it happen?
What have been milestones of your growth in discipleship this past year?
How has your growth in faith motivated a visible change in the way you live?
What change of life do you pray for this next year?
Although we await the full revelation of Jesus as the eternal King, we already experience His presence among us even now. There are various ways in which the eternal Son of God comes to us: in the incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth, in the Sacraments, in prayer, in the lives of faithful Christians, and in His Second Coming at the end of time. These are all His “Advent”. The focus of our faith is not only on the past or the future but also on the present. One of the challenges of our Advent preparation is to have eyes that can see the presence of Jesus already with us in the present.
When are you most conscious of the presence of Jesus with you?
What can you do to deepen your participation in the life of Christ during this Advent season?
As you review the various ways that Jesus comes to us, in which one do you find it most difficult to see the presence of Jesus?
What can you do this Advent to open your eyes so the presence of Jesus can be more clearly revealed to you?
[1] The Great Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide: The Holy Gospel According to Saint Matthew Volume II. Translated by Thomas W. Mossman; Revised and completed by Michael J. Miller. Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire: Loreto Publications, 2008, pp. 455-456.
[2] St. John of the Cross, Dark Night, Book 1, chap. 2, 1-2. Washington, D.C.: ICS Publ., 1991, pp. 362-363.
Journey of the Magi, mosaic, Basilica Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, ca. 6th c.
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.”