On this First Sunday of Advent, the Church begins a new year and begins four weeks of preparation for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. All over the place, we see civic Christmas decorations up, Christmas lights lit and people thinking that because we have gone beyond 25th November that Christmas has started.
All a little too early. It is too easily forgotten in an increasingly secularised world that we are in fact in Advent – a Latin word that means “coming” – a season of which we are reminded during Mass when the Priest says the words “…as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.”
It is a time of preparation and penitence, just as Lent is a time of preparation and penitence for the other great Feast of the Church, Easter.
The Prophet Jeremiah provides one of two themes running through today’s readings. He talks explicitly about the first coming of Christ, the Son of David, as our Saviour. The concept of a “branch” referring to a descendant is seen in many places in the Old Testament, and Jeremiah points to this descendant of David uniting the Houses of Israel and Judah in what Christ will call “the Kingdom of God”. This excerpt from Jeremiah comes after a number of gloomy prophecies of disaster and exile that the Prophet had the unhappy task of delivering. It provides the hope that we all have as Christians that stems from the earthly birth of Jesus leading on to his ministry some thirty years later.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus again exhorts us to prepare ourselves – “stay awake, praying at all times”. As with the Gospel two weeks ago, a slightly gloomy and apocalyptic theme looking beyond Christmas to the second coming of Christ, at the end of the world. This is the second theme, which on first reading looks like an awful prophecy of doom.
But look closely at the words: “that day will be sprung on you suddenly, like a trap”. None of us knows how or when we will meet our own death and Jesus tells us to be prepared for that day – “stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.” Praying that our soul will have the strength to survive so that we are able to stand with confidence before Almighty God, our God of Love sitting on His Throne of Grace.
Waiting in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.