November 27, 2015

Rejoice in the Lord

‘The days are coming, says the Lord.’ Are we ready?

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

Advent, which begins on Sunday, Nov. 29, is a time of preparation, an opportunity to begin anew by placing first things first.

The first and second readings for the First Sunday of Advent are hope-filled: “The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah. I will raise up for David a just shoot; he shall do what is right and just in the land. In those days, Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure” (Jer 33:14-16). Our God keeps his promises. His righteousness assures safety and security for all those who strengthen their hearts “to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus” (1 Thes 3:13).

It’s important to keep in mind that our God is ever faithful because, frankly, lots of bad things will happen between now and the end of days.

As the Lord tells us in the Gospel of Luke for this Sunday, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on Earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Lk 21:25-26). Our salvation in Jesus Christ does not make everything nice and worry-free. We will know trouble, even intense suffering and death, before the Lord comes again “with power and great glory” (Lk 21:27).

In every age, it’s tempting to see signs of the end time. Our Lord’s warning that “on Earth nations will be in dismay” (Lk 21:25) sounds very familiar to us.

Especially since the nuclear horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the Second World War, we have lived with the threat of an unimaginable holocaust resulting from our inhumanity toward one another. That’s one reason the Church reminds us to “be vigilant at all times ” (Lk 25:36).

We never know when disaster will strike us—as individuals, families, communities or nations. What we do know is that God is faithful. He keeps his promises, and he will not let us be destroyed by the evil forces that surround us—now or in the days to come.

What does it mean to be ready? The season of Advent reminds us to keep our focus on things that matter. Do we love God with our whole heart and soul and strength? Do we love our neighbor as ourselves? The Lord admonishes us, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life” (Lk 21:34). It’s easy to lose sight of things that matter when we are confronted by the distractions posed by the world we live in. The “drowsiness” St. Paul warns against in his first letter to the Church in Thessalonica is not unlike Pope Francis’ concept of “indifference.” Both represent a state of inattention and uncaring that can blind us from recognizing, and responding to, the needs of others.

The call to be vigilant or, as St. Paul says, “to be blameless in holiness” (1 Thes 3:13) is challenging. Have you ever tried to stay awake when you were really tired or sick? It can only happen if we resist the temptation to let down our guard and relax. That means we must get up out of our easy chairs and do something!

We keep our hearts from becoming drowsy by paying attention to the needs of others and by constant acts of love and service. When we are focused on the good of others, rather than our own wants and desires, we can shake off disappointment, self-centeredness and anxiety. Nothing stimulates a drowsy heart more effectively than a simple act of kindness. Nothing can ensure we will remain vigilant better than active engagement with our sisters and brothers in need.

Pope Francis consistently urges us to be a Church that is engaged with others, especially those who are most in need, “on the peripheries.” Why? Because that is what Christ did and what he asks us, his followers, to do in his name.

The Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent admonishes us: “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man” (Lk 21:36). These are strong words of warning, but they are also words of Advent hope. The Lord will come again as promised. Let’s do our part and make sure we’re wide awake, fully prepared for “the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones” (1 Thes 3:13). †

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