PREPARING FOR THE COMING OF JESUS
Jer 33:14-16; 1Thes 3:12-4:2; Lk 21:25-28, 34-36
We begin the season of Advent today. It is the beginning of Year C of the liturgical calendar. It means that Christmas is near. Jesus is the reason for the season of Advent; he is also the reason for Christmas. In the midst of the rushing and hustle and bustle of life, and during the pre-Christmas rush to get everything prepared for Christmas, we are reminded that Jesus is the reason for Christmas. We do not want to forget the reason for the season. To help us keep Jesus as the reason for Advent and Christmas, the Church gives us four weeks to prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus. During this time, we look both at Jesus’ First Coming and his Second Coming. We look at when he came as a little baby, and we look at the future when he will come again. Today, 1st Sunday of Advent, we are reminded of the need to stay awake for we do not know when the Lord will return. The Gospel today begins with the narrative of what is to happen when Jesus comes.
- A VIVID PICTURE OF THE SECOND COMING OF JESUS
There are several things that the four gospels tell us about the Second Coming of Jesus. Today, we look at St. Luke’s version of the Second Coming: 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 (Lk 21:25). This implies the following:
- a) The coming of Jesus will be very evident. No one is going to miss it. The events that Jesus describes will be unmistakable. These signs are going to be visible for everyone. His coming is not going to happen on some secluded mountain someplace where only the “privileged” get to meet him. His coming will be very public. There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. Describing this same scene, Matthew says: “For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man (Mtt 24:27). Normally, no one misses a significant lightning strike. Similarly, entire nations will be in anguish and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. The Second Coming will be like this: unmistakable. The Son of Man will appear in the sky.
- b) It will come when most people are unprepared. Matthew’s helps us to paint a clear picture of this scene in these words: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (Mtt 24:36-39).
Jesus says the Second Coming is going to catch people by surprise like the flood caught the people of Noah’s day by surprise. You cannot help but wonder how the flood in Noah’s time caught people by surprise. We are told that the ark that Noah built was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet tall! It certainly took Noah a long time to build this boat. Neighbours surely noticed his slow but steady work. At the beginning, people surely asked Noah, “Hey mister, what are you building?” And surely Noah told them that he was building a boat to survive a coming flood.
If they had bier-parlours or drinking spots in those days, one can be sure they talked and joked cynically about “Noah” and the boat he was building to survive “a certain great flood”. When the real moment came, the people were surprised not because they had never heard about the coming flood. They were surprised because they did not think that it would happen. Instead, they continued to live life as they always had, right up to the day Noah entered the Ark. When Jesus returns, the same thing will be true. The surprise will not be from IGNORANCE but from INDIFFERENCE.
- c) It will not be a joyful day at all. In today’s gospel, we read, “People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Lk 21:26). People who have been through a tornado, fire, a battlefield (surrounded by senseless shooting and killing) or even a severe illness, will tell you that these were moments when they were weak from fear. They understood that they were destitute in the face of their circumstances and that helplessness filled them with fear. In a similar way, true followers of Christ will also be anxious at first until they recognize what is happening. Then their anxiety will give way to joy as they look unto Christ. They will know that our redemption will almost be complete. However, those who felt there would “always be time to get right with God” will see the devastating choices they have made. Those who have declared “God is dead” will find themselves facing the wrath of the God whom they had buried in their minds. On this day, we shall face the consequences of our choices.
- JESUS ADVISES US ON WHAT WE ARE DO AS WE PREPARE
In in the second part of the gospel of today (Lk 21:34-36), Jesus gives us some sound advice as we prepare for the coming of the Lord. Luke reminds us of another coming which we tend to forget, namely, Jesus’ daily coming in the ordinary events and people in our lives. Luke’s emphasis is that we should be vigilant to recognise and welcome the Lord who comes to us without warning every day in people, places and events we least expect. If we are preparing for the Lord’s coming by looking up to the sky, Luke today invites us to look out, to look into the story of our daily lives and recognise the Lord who comes to us in ways we least expect.
- a) Be courgeous: First, we read: “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Lk 21:28). At this time when anxiety will be severe and people are filled with dread, Jesus urges his followers to take a different course. When a runner wins a race, he/she does not put his/her head down or hide. He/she looks up, raises his arms, and even sometimes takes a victory salute. This is the picture we have here. Instead of hiding, those who have served and followed Christ will realize that the day they have been longing for has come. The battle is won; the joy will begin. For them, the Second Coming of Jesus is not something to be dreaded. It will be something they have longed for. It will be something to look forward to with the eagerness of a child waiting for friends to arrive for a birthday party.
- b) Brace yourselves for action: In the closing part of today’s gospel, Jesus exhorts us to get ready for any required action: “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” (Lk 21:34-36). First and foremost, he says, we should not bedistracted by the anxieties, pleasures and indulgences of life.Very simply, his advice is: be focused and serious in your faith. Jesus warns us about the way some people commonly ENJOY LIFE TODAY. We know of people who work during the week with the expressed goal of getting to the weekend so they can “party” (translated in other terms: “get drunk and act recklessly”). People are not ashamed of such behaviour. Instead, they brag about it. One often hears them talk about having the “time of their lives”. Others run around frantically. They chase anything that occupies their fancy. This lifestyle has a price tag (as every lifestyle does). It may cost them their marriage, their job, their financial security, their health, their friends, their reputation and even their faith in God. But most of all, it may cost them their eternal life. We cannot truly follow Christ while at the same time embracing the world wholly. Remember, Jesus has said, “No man can serve two masters” (Lk 16:13).
- c) Stay vigilant for the unexpected: Many of us will remember that at the dawn of the New Millennium, the year 2000, we were warned about Y2K (the “millennium bug.”). We were told that bank records would be lost, essential computers would fail leaving us without gas, water, and electricity. People were urged to stock up on batteries, generators, water, food, etc. They were told to print all essential documents in case of major computer failures. No one knows if this was an overblown excitement or whether a great tragedy was averted because these precautions were taken.
Jesus warns us that his coming will be “unexpected, like a trap.” The best way to be ready for the unexpected is to BE PREPARED. In everyday life, we hear people being called to be prepared in various areas of life: to be prepared for computer crashes by backing up your information; to be prepared for any health problems by getting regular checkups; to be prepared for financial “surprises” by saving money; to be prepared for changing job demands by taking continuing education classes; to be prepared for disaster by buying insurance and taking precautions, etc.
Again, if one looks back at one’s days in school, one would recall that at the beginning of a school term or semester students were given a syllabus. They were informed on when assignments and papers would be expected from them. Inevitably, some people would wait until the very last minute to get started on their assignments. Such people needed a deadline to activate them. They partied and “enjoyed” all year and then worked like crazy persons to meet the deadline. Unfortunately, many people live their whole lives this way. Their interest in prophecy is anchored to a desire to know the deadline. Such people always want to know how much time they have before they make a crash preparation to get into Heaven. This is a foolish way to live.
Jesus invites us to live lives of such faithfulness, that even if we were to miss the signs of his coming, it would not matter, because our assignments would all be ready and we would be turned in. Jesus urges us to stop idling and get to work because the final exam may just be closer than we think.
Jesus is the REASON for this preparation. He is the REASON for the season of ADVENT and for CHRISTMAS: “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” (Jer 33:14-15). Jesus is the fulfilment of this prophesy. As to how to go about this task of preparing for Jesus, the 2nd reading of today tells us clearly: “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” (1Thes 3:12). May we strive to live in such a way that when the inevitable end comes, we will not have cause to regret but a cause of hope, joy, and fulfillment.