Word of God and Salesian Life Fr Juan Jose’ Bartolome’ SDB
First Sunday of Advent Year C Lectio divina on Lk 21,25-28.34-36
We are beginning a new liturgical year during which we will recall again what God has done for us down through history, for he is Lord of history. In this way we will be better able to imagine what God is willing to do for us in our little story, if we allow him to be master of our history. This memory of the God who acts for the good of all mankind and for our good should motivate us to give thanks and lead us to a more permanent conversion. We begin, as we do every year, with the season of Advent, during which the Church teaches us to live in enthusiastic expectation of the Lord’s coming, and in vigilant concern as his “hour” approaches.
Luke makes use of apocalyptic images, and refers also to the recent fall of Jerusalem, to announce the coming of the ‘day of the Lord’, as a great cosmic catastrophe. The events will be such that fear will take grip of the hearts of mankind. Only the Lord’s disciples will feel secure. The people who are waiting for the Lord will know that their salvation has come. On the day of disaster they will hold their heads high, since they are already awake. Their waiting demands that they keep vigil. The fact that they do not already enjoy the Lord’s presence obliges them to renounce whatever separates them from him. They are strengthened by continuous prayer as they wait. The disciple who prays is prepared and will be ready to receive the Lord. Those who await the Lord’s coming do not fear present catastrophes and do not worry about the delay in his coming. They renounce everything that is not of the Lord, but they do not give up on the joy of living.
At that time: Jesus said to his disciples,
25 “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves,
26 men fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
27 And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
28 Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
34 But take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a snare; 35 for it will come upon all who dwell upon the face of the whole earth.
36 But watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of man.”
Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
The so-called ‘eschatological discourse’ (Lk 21,5-28) concludes the public ministry of Jesus in Jerusalem, and it does so in dramatic manner. Jesus foretells the destruction of the city and its temple (Lk 21, 5-24) and predicts the coming of the Son of Man (Lk 21-25-38). The end of one world must precede the appearance of the new world. Jesus wept for the destruction of the city in which God had been revealed (Lk 19,41-44). When some people admired the magnificence of the temple, which was still under construction (Lk 21,5-7), Jesus reacted by saying that they should put their trust, not in the stones of the temple, but in the Son of Man who is to come.
Our gospel passage (Lk 21,25-28.34-36) concentrates on the end events. The coming of the Son of Man obliges people to live in a state of permanent vigilance. It is not the first time Jesus has said this (Lk 12,35-48; 17,20-37). The coming of the Son of Man will be preceded by the sudden fall of the ‘old’ world, fear on the part of all mankind, and a great cosmic upheaval. Then the Son of Man will appear with tremendous power. His coming will hasten the end of the world, and will give courage to all who have been waiting for him. Far from being terrifying, what we are waiting for – not a new world, but a new man – will be a reason for joy. The fact that the Saviour is near will mean that our definitive salvation is at hand.
However, this good news is accompanied by a serious warning, Certainty that the Savour is coming is no excuse for inactivity on the part of those who are waiting for him. Since he is coming, we must stand ready for him, heads held high. Knowing that the Lord is coming need not keep us awake at night, nor worry us during the day, but we must not waste our days in sleep and idleness. The Lord who is to come wants his servants to stay awake and keep watch (Lk 12:37).
II. Meditate: apply what the text says to life
I think the first thing we have to do today is to ask ourselves if this obligation to live in expectation of the Lord’s coming is burdensome to us, or does it seem a superfluous and useless. It is true that we all desire more peaceful days. We want to live without worrying about the future. We dream of being free from the problems that preoccupy us. But our everyday experience is contrary to our best hopes, so much so that we are often tempted to despair. Who will restore our enthusiasm in the faith? How do we maintain hope in this life?
We do not deny that one of the big problems of today, it seems, is that there are more reasons for discouragement in our world than there are reasons for hope. We cannot overlook the fact that there are many among us who have been robbed of hope, and are incapable of imagining anything new. Nothing fascinates them – they have lost their capacity for fascination. We believers, simply because we are still waiting for the Lord Jesus, have every reason to remain confident, and to nourish our own hope and the hopes of others in our world. We have many reasons for hope, but we do not find them within ourselves. They are not of our own making. And it not that other people give us reason for hope. Our reason for hope is that we have God’s assurance. Our world must be good if God chooses to be present in it. Man surely deserves our love and respect since God chose to become one. If God is determined to come close to us, it is because we mean something to him! And if we are important to God, we have one more reason to value ourselves a bit more. If God expects something new from us, then there is no reason for us to despair or lose hope.
God is close to us every time we try to draw near to him. With his desire to be close to us, God guarantees hope in our lives, in our families, in our hearts, provided we assure him that we are waiting for him, in our lives, in our families and in our hearts. If we try to live now as if he were already with us, it will make his absence more bearable, and we will be better prepared to recognize him when he comes. Peace is not achieved without suffering, and only those who give peace will find it and preserve it. If we try to work for peace, without condemning others, and without complaining about our suffering, we will find the peace the Lord will bring when he comes
Today’s gospel speaks of the certainty that Christ will come. It is true that his discourse seems strange to us. Signs in the sun and moon and stars, the clamour of the ocean, heavenly powers that fall to earth – these are images that we find hard to understand. We find it easier to understand when he speaks about the suffering of the nations, and about men dying of fear as they await what menaces the world. In our day, life depends on many imponderable factors, on decisions that do not depend on us, on political programmes that we have no part in, on people we will never meet, on sicknesses that we dread. We live in a world where even the air is impure because we have polluted it. It is a world where rich countries sell more weapons than food to people who are dying of hunger. Love is easy to find nowadays, but does not last. Giving oneself for others has become something rare and extraordinary. But even in a world like this, hope is still possible.
This is a frightening message, terrible and unexpected, but we Christians must proclaim it to the world. From the time of St Paul, a mere twenty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, Christians have been living in expectation of the Lord’s coming. Nobody and nothing can take this hope from us. The more the world becomes inhospitable, the more we await the coming of our Saviour. If we ourselves feel deeply the absence of God, we will wait for him all the more willingly.
This is our task in the world we live in. We are to live without allowing the world to quench our hope, or allowing evil to stifle our dream. As believers, we do not deny the reality of evil, but we refuse to be prey to evil irredeemably and forever. In spite of everything, in spite even of ourselves, God will not abandon us. He comes to us. He wants to be close to our problems. If we believe this, we will have the courage to maintain hope. We will rediscover faith in our world and in ourselves, and our faith will be credible in the eyes of others. If we feel loved by God, we will be stronger in time of trial and we will not lose hope. We can try to love others, and to believe a bit more in them, to love them a bit more, not for who they are or what they do, but for what God is for them and what God has done for them. If we do this, then we will regain our hope and rediscover our duty towards every other person, which is to make of him our neighbour.
Then, and only then, will we have the certainty that God is coming to us, because he has saved us from our selfishness. The world, our world, will have recovered the hope that comes from recognizing this great change in us. The most urgent and lasting change, which brings better expectations, is not a change in social conditions, but the change that takes place in the human heart, when one becomes a neighbour to others. The fact that our Lord is near, and is coming, should bring us closer to those who have need of us. This is the best fruit of our hope, and the only credible one,
Living in hope is the only fitting way to celebrate the coming of Christ, and the only way worthy of trust. Christians who believe in hope create situations of hope, and give reasons for others to hope. They support those who may be gradually losing hope, and they encourage those who are still able to dream.
We pray that when God comes he will find us at work, spreading hope in our world, which is so much in need of it. May he find us vigilant, standing erect, working for a better world of the kind we all hope for. Only in this way can we celebrate Advent and the coming of our Lord into our lives. Then when he comes, he will recognise us as his servants, because when he was absent we did what he told us to do. We made his promises come true as we were waiting for him. Is there any better way of being hope-filled servants?
Gospel text from the Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition