"You also must be ready!" [Mt. 24:44] Ready for what? For the coming of the Lord Jesus. Today, we are celebrating the First Sunday of Advent. Did you know that the word "Advent" means "coming?" Because the First Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of a time of prayer and fasting in preparation for the coming of the Lord, it is placed as the first Sunday of the Liturgical Calendar. Today marks the First Sunday of cycle A of the Liturgical Year.
What "coming" are we preparing ourselves for during the Advent Season? We are preparing ourselves for the coming of the Lord Jesus in three ways:
(1) First of all, we are preparing ourselves for the coming of the Lord as the Judge, either at death or at the end of this world, whichever may come first.
(2) Secondly, we are preparing ourselves to receive the physical presence of our Redeemer through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
(3) Thirdly, we are preparing ourselves for the coming of Christmas, the birthday anniversary of the Lord's coming into this world as God incarnate.
Today's First Reading from the Book of Isaiah [Is. 2:1-5] was a prophecy of the incarnation of the Lord God through Jesus Christ. Isaiah 2:2 states, "In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it."
The Jerome Biblical Commentary (page 268, 9.2) tells us that "the idea of the mountain of God as the goal of all nations is a very ancient one. The precise reference is to the northern part of the eastern hill of Jerusalem. This location was developed extensively during the reign of Solomon."
Isaiah 2:3 continues, "Many peoples shall come and say, 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.' For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem."
The mountain of God as a place of worship is mentioned in the Gospel of John where the Samaritan woman said to Jesus, "Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem." [Jn. 4:20] Why Jerusalem? Because it is the city that Jesus triumphantly entered to be crowned as King. [Mt. 21:1-11; Mk. 11:1-11; Lk. 19:28-30; Jn. 12:12-19] It is where Jesus, the Word of God, [Jn. 1:15] spent His last days before He was crucified. It is where Jesus, until the day when He was taken up to Heaven, gave instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he Had chosen. [Acts 1:2] It is the city that Jesus ordered the apostles not to leave, but wait there for the promise of the Father. [Acts 1:4]
Jerusalem, the root of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, became the center of "instruction" for all the nations.
The reading from the Book of Isaiah continued, "He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." [Is. 1:4]
Through Jerusalem, salvation came to the world. Through Jerusalem came the meaning of true love. Through Jerusalem came the fulfillment of everlasting justice and peace of the Kingdom of God. Consequently, we can now truly say, "let us walk in the light of the Lord!" [Is. 2:5]
Today's Second Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Romans [Rom. 13:11-4] reminds us that salvation is nearer to us now. No matter how we look at it, each day is a day closer to the day when we will come face to face with the Lord Jesus. This encounter may involve the return of Christ to judge the world and to gather His elect for their final reward. Or it may involve the day when our souls will suddenly be called to depart from this world. As recent world events have shown us, be it New York, Washington or through anthrax, we never know when the Lord God will call us.
St. Paul reminds us of that fact through his words. "You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." [Rom. 13:11-4]
Yesterday, we were one day further from our face to face encounter with the Lord God. Last year, we were one year further from our face to face encounter with the Lord God. When we were baptized, we were quite a distance away from our face to face encounter with God. But now, the days are running short. Not knowing when we will come face to face with God, can we afford to live in sin and lose our souls? Certainly not! It is better to put on the armour of light and to walk in Christlikeness so we may inherit the Kingdom of God that awaits those who persevere in their living faith until the end.
As we heard during today's Gospel Reading, [Mt. 24:37-44] "Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming." [Mt. 24:42] In the midst of violence, suffering, injustice, persecution, indifference, Jesus, the messenger of peace, tells us to be vigilant.
The day on which the Son Man shall come, it shall be a day like in the days of Noah. [Mt. 24:37] The people will be eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage until the last minute. [Mt. 24:38] Nobody will know when the Lord shall return... for many it shall be too late. Acquaintances and families will be separated; some will be saved, others will be lost.
If all knew how close the day of the Lord is, surely, they would have all be living holy lives in fear of the punishment that awaits the unfaithful. But this is not the case. Look around! Can it be said that all are ready? Can it be said that all are in a state of grace? Can it be said that all have recently received the Sacrament of Confession? Can it be said that all obey the first precept of the Church and participate in the celebration of the Holy Mass on Sundays and holy days?
We do not know what will come first. Will it be Christmas Day to commemorate the coming of God through the incarnation of Jesus Christ? Will some of us die tonight in our sleep? Or will Jesus return tomorrow, that day being the last day of the world? Not knowing, "therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour." [Mt. 24:44]