NOVEMBER 28, 2010: 1ST  SUNDAY OF ADVENT: ISAIAH 2:1-5 ; ROMANS 13:11-14 ; MT 24:37-44.

 

PUT ON THE LORD JESUS CHRIST AND MAKE NO PROVISION FOR THE FLESH.  On this first day of the new liturgical year all three readings share a sense of urgency that calls us to a renewed decision. We are given warning that the time is near at hand when we shall have to answer to our Lord for our choices, and encouraged to make ours a way of life that enters upon  a more full and even glorious state. Isaiah’s prophecy announces this new purpose that leads to a higher, nobler existence, symbolized by the mountain on whose height the temple is situated: “In days to come,” he proclaims, “the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills.” God’s special presence there imparts a pre-eminence to this site to which our hopes and desires are to turn so that we encounter the God of glory who makes his presence accessible to us.

 

 Jesus raises our hopes and aspirations even higher, going beyond the confines of our terrestrial vision. Our Lord makes clear in another context that God’s dwelling is not confined to the temple mountain; his proper habitation is another world altogether. His house is not made with human hands, for he inhabits eternity. What gives meaning to our existence in this world of time and space is the work of preparation for entering into the eternal dwelling God has readied for us. This preparation is what our Lord refers to when he concludes his discourse on the coming of the Son of Man in the Gospel we have just heard, with the warning: “be alert, for you do not know when the Son of Man is coming.” This is not the only occasion when Jesus stressed the need for preparedness to welcome the Lord when he suddenly appears. This alertness is repeatedly the theme of his teaching. It takes the form of prudent foresight that makes good the fleeting opportunities offer in the course of daily life for disposing of time and effort so as to be prepared to welcome the bridegroom when he comes, even if the hour of his arrival is inconvenient. “At midnight,” he taught, “the cry arose: “Behold the bridegroom is coming. Light up your lamps.” Only those who had the foresight to prepare their lamps with necessary oil were able to enter the banquet hall. The unprepared were turned away, having to seek what was necessary at the last minute, they found the door locked.

 

The Christian life calls for alert use of time and prudent response to opportunity. Saint Paul, in the second reading from his Epistle to the Romans, reinforces that lesson that Jesus had already stressed, knowing how prone we are to be drawn away from our higher purposes by the interests and attractions that cross our path so inevitably as we go about our daily affairs. Paul reminds the Romans of the need to avoid such dispersion of our energies. he writes: “You know the time in which we are living. “It is now the hour for you to wake from sleep, for our salvation is closer than when we first accepted the faith. The night is far spent; the day draws near. Let us cast off deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

 

Advent is the response we offer to these urgent appeals that emerge repeatedly in salvation history, precisely because of our human tendency to lower our sight and to seek what is immediately at hand. Each day of these four weeks takes up the same call for preparedness, for attentiveness to the heights revealed to us in the birth and life cycle of the Word of God made flesh. On this opening day of Advent we are given this urgent invitation to make a serious decision and prudent effort to redeem the time by setting aside special periods of prayer, meditation, spiritual reading and study. Advent is a season of penance, it I traditionally a time of fasting and self-denial, a kind of pre-Christmas purification from guilt of sin and of practical measures to arrive at inner detachment from the pleasures that bind us to those activities that are distracting. To enter into this season of Advent means to focus our desires and use our energies and time in the service of the Gospel message that our God comes to save us. In Latin the meaning of the word ‘advenit‘, from which our English ‘Advent’ derives, is ‘he comes.’ May we so participate in this season that we are ready to welcome him with desire and firm faith when he arrives in our midst and takes up his abode in our hearts at Christmas.      


Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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