Anyone who has traveled the Atlantic City Expressway on the way home from the shore will have noticed three large signs after the first toll booth station. They read “Stay Alert!”, “Stay Awake!” and “Stay Alive!” The words in bold black letters on a yellow reflective background are reminders to those traveling at night. The signs remind drivers to be careful and to be vigilant so that they and others driving on that highly trafficked road may arrive home safely.
Today we begin the new liturgical year and the Season of Advent. The season affords us time to prepare for the Lord’s coming. Many times we think of the first coming of Jesus that we celebrate at Christmas. With Christmas music, decorations and the shopping season underway we might get distracted from the first part of Advent, which encourages us to prepare for the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of time.
The readings for today’s Mass have that Second Coming, or parousia, in focus. The coming of Jesus as the divine judge will dispel all evil and bring His Kingdom to full realization. Jesus uses language and images of an apocalyptic nature to express the chaos one might feel when confronted with evil. He encourages His disciples, when faced with difficulties in discipleship or indeed with persecutions, to remain faithful. In other words, He calls for vigilance. He offers hope. He encourages perseverance.
Jesus’ warns, “beware that your hearts do not become drowsy.” He recognizes that there are forces in life that might weigh us down or distract us from living the Gospel. These can be the “anxieties of daily life” or they can be immoral activity such as “carousing and drunkenness.”
Many times anxieties are based on fear whether real or perceived. They can cause one to become distracted from the Lord who often tells us “Do not be afraid.” Immoral behavior such as mentioned by Jesus can dim our senses and mind to the life that is within and around us. Jesus’ exhortation is that we live in hopeful expectation and preparedness.
St. Paul echoes this call for being prepared in his First Letter to the Thessalonians. He prays: “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all … 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.”
The prayer for a strengthening of the heart is one to bolster the fortitude, courage and resolution of the faithful as they seek to live in holiness of life. His advice on living the holy life is to conduct ourselves in ways that are pleasing to God.
Jeremiah the prophet, in the first reading, offers hope for a future restoration of Judah. You may recall that during His life there was much corruption of the faith, grossly immoral behavior among the people and a turning away from true worship of Yahweh to the worship of pagan gods. His oracles call for repentance and reform as he recognizes their society; nation and religion are about to fall apart in the onslaught of the Babylonians.
While he recognizes the impending outcome he also offers words of hope. A restoration and rebirth are coming. “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. In those days Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure; this is what they shall call her: ‘The Lord our justice.’” The Lord remains faithful to His people and will never leave them abandoned but will vindicate them from all that oppresses. The prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus, the shoot of David.
During the beginning of Advent we prepare ourselves in vigilance for Jesus’ second coming. At the same time we recall that He continually comes into our hearts and dwells within us and within His Church. He not only calls us to be prepared, but He is the one who strengthens us on this pilgrimage of faith.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.