First Sunday of Advent

Reflection: Times of peril and promise


We are living in a time of global turmoil as some democracies are taken apart while others erode socially, culturally and economically.

As democracies falter, world leaders scramble to figure out how to save the democratic system and its values, while thwarting off external and internal threats. At this time in the history of the world, the most urgent and dire threats to democracy are internal. Nationalist and populist forces are gaining power and turning to autocratic behavior in such countries as Italy, Austria, Poland and the U.S. People living in various democratic nations are expressing the view that their democratic governments are not serving them well.

International conversations like the 2018 Copenhagen Democracy Summit in June call for world leaders who are social innovators – creative and concerned about the underrepresented. Because the planet and all communities of life are living in the midst of climate change that is wreaking havoc in many parts of the world, leaders must be willing to make the just and ethical decisions needed to assure quality of life and sustainability for all creation.

The needs are great; the demands are even greater; and the geopolitical and environmental crises are beyond human comprehension. In ancient biblical times, people faced similar crises to those we face today. In the midst of wars, with empires usurping power and lands from one another, the Israelites looked for good and just leadership.

In today’s first reading, the writer speaks about a divinely promised new leader who will do what is just and right and bring peace and security to the land of Israel and Judah.In Psalm 95, the psalmist desires to know God’s ways. This God whom the psalmist addresses is not only one to whom the psalmist can relate personally but also one whose paths are worthy to be followed. For the psalmist, justice, kindness and constancy characterize God’s paths for those who walk in God’s way — keeping the covenant and the divine decrees. Those who love God will also experience God’s friendship. For the psalmist, then, the community is to follow the ways of God and not the ways of the corrupt leaders of the day.

The second reading from Thessalonians focuses on the core element needed within the Christian community, and likewise, within the world today for the sake of the common good of all. This core element is love. Paul defines for the Christian community a social and religious ideology that involves loving one another. Christ has already attested to the way of love, and his followers received the apostolic directives. The Christian community is to lead by example; their power as a group of people is to be transformative- not oppressive. In this way, others can experience the community’s holiness and become the recipients of their loving actions.

The theme of redeeming and transformative power is the central message of Luke’s Gospel. The Gospel writer envisions a time when the world will be turned upside down, signaled by cosmic events in the sun, moon and stars. Cosmic convulsions will accompany the coming of the divine One- the Son of Man. Life will be changed, with judgment and redemption occurring simultaneously. In sum, these readings invite us to ponder our world situation and our need for new kinds of leaders. An unwavering commitment to practicing justice complemented by love is the order of the day. Finally, as a Christian community called to live in communion with Christ, we are to be the embodiment of the redeeming powers of the divine One, shaking up the world as we confront the powers of human oppression. The time of realized eschatology is now, and today begins the spirit of the second coming. Are we ready to participate in the mission?

A closer look at the gospel

This portion of Luke’s Gospel is part of a larger apocalyptic discourse. Apocalyptic writing was popular in Jewish and Christian circles for a millennium. The focus is on eschatology, the end of the world and the beginning of a new world. Usually, the transition is described in terms of cosmic transformations. Judgment upon oppressive persons and institutions and the vindication of those made to suffer by such people and institutions are part of the apocalyptic agenda. Amid painful, prolonged suffering, when no hope on the horizon can be seen, writers often employ the apocalyptic genre. They turn the suffering faithful ones’ faith toward the heavens and offer a vision of the end of the present misery and the beginning of the new age to come.

Such is the genre and methodology of this passage from Luke. Preceding this passage is the prediction of the fall of Jerusalem, an event that had occurred about 10 to 20 years prior to the writing of the Gospel. The Gospel writer relates in this earlier passage the events that happened when the Roman armies destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. This passage is written, in a way that makes both events seem as if they have not happened yet when in reality, Luke is writing the Gospel in hindsight.

Having featured Jesus delivering such harrowing news to his listeners and followers, Luke now portrays Jesus offering a word of comfort. Even though everyone and everything is coming apart at the seams, the collapse of the powerful political and religious leaders of the day and their power structures that have long caused oppression and pain to the common folk, is a good occurrence. Today’s Gospel reading speaks about the turmoil that is to happen as the reign of God — the new age — is ushered in.

In the context of our world today, where certain leaders are amassing more and more power as people suffer under oppressive regimes, and where corrupt religious, political, economic and social institutions are failing and crumbling, we who hear today’s readings are challenged to live lives of active love and to shore up that which is supposed to work for the common good – such as democracy as a model of government.

Like Luke’s Parousia image of Christ, we are called to usher in the new day, the new age. Redemption from oppression starts now, and we Christians are called to embody Christ and move the apostolic mission forward in our world. The reign of God is at hand now; we have no other choice but to hasten its coming by working for justice throughout our world.

Reading I

(Jeremiah 33: 14-16)

The days are coming, says the LORD, 
when I will fulfill the promise 
I made to the house of Israel and Judah.
In those days, in that time, 
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; 
this is what they shall call her: 
“The LORD our justice.”

Responsorial psalm

(Psalm 25: 4-5, 8-10, 14)

Reading II

(I Thessalonians 3: 12-4:2)

Brothers and sisters:
May the Lord make you increase and abound in love
for one another and for all,
just as we have for you, 
so as to strengthen your hearts, 
to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father 
at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. Amen.

Finally, brothers and sisters, 
we earnestly ask and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that,
as you received from us 
how you should conduct yourselves to please God
and as you are conducting yourselves
you do so even more.
For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.


(Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36)

Jesus said to his disciples:
“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.
And then they will see the Son of Man 
coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
But when these signs begin to happen, 
stand erect and raise your heads 
because your redemption is at hand.

“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy 
from carousing and drunkenness 
and the anxieties of daily life, 
and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.
For that day will assault everyone
who lives on the face of the earth.
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.”