For the First Sunday of Advent 2021, Father Garry Koch reflects on the perspective Luke brings in this new liturgical year. Photo from Shutterstock.com
For the First Sunday of Advent 2021, Father Garry Koch reflects on the perspective Luke brings in this new liturgical year. Photo from Shutterstock.com
Gospel reflection for Nov. 28, 2021, First Sunday of Advent

Today we enter the new liturgical year with the beginning of the Advent Season. For the next year we will be reading from Luke’s Gospel, so in the months ahead we will hear some of the more well-known parables of Jesus, along with some unique perspectives on who Jesus is and the core of his teaching.

While we think of Advent as a time for preparation for Christmas, and therefore anticipate the beautiful Readings from the Infancy Narratives in the Gospel, that is not really the case.  When we open the liturgical year, we do so with the ominous warning of the end of times not dissimilar to what we hear also at the end of the liturgical year. We reflect, not only on the Birth of the Messiah, but also on the future, the day of Final Judgment, when the Lord calls us each to an accounting of this life. In a sense, the Readings on this first weekend of Advent challenge to alertness in the face of dangerous and uncertain times.

Unlike the pure threatening nature of the apocalyptic teaching, we heard from Jesus at the end of Mark’s Gospel, Luke places his apocalyptic view in a much more positive light. While the world, and the powers of the world, will sense the total disruption of the natural order and panic to the level of dread, it should not be so for the followers of Jesus.

For Luke’s understanding of the end of times is the dawning of the next age of history when the salvation of all who are disciples of Jesus Christ will be realized. While he cautions against complacency and listlessness, Luke at the same time anticipates the dawn of the period of salvation. Taking a more historical thematic approach to writing the Gospel, Luke in a way divides history thus: The Time of Israel/Jews, the Time of Jesus, the Time of the Church, and then the Time of the Fulfillment. While each prior historical period came to an end, it is an ending that opens up to new beginning. This sense of openness to the Spirit in our midst is why Luke leaves the ending of the Acts of the Apostles in an ambiguous way. The reader expects more, and that the work is unfinished. Indeed, there is, and it is, but not in the ordinary fashion. It is open ended because God is always at work within the historical moment, to bring about the fulfillment of the Kingdom.

As he is not himself Jewish, Luke places much less emphasis on the Davidic character of Jesus, preferring instead to focus on the universal nature of the mission of Jesus, nor does he carry the dire imagery of Jewish and other early Christian apocalyptic writers.

The end of history is not an end in itself but rather the beginning of a new period. Each period began with a celestial sign: in the Old Testament, the act of creation; in the Gospel the angelic announcement of the birth of Jesus; in the Acts the descent of the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire; and then in the final age, the unspecified turmoil in the heavenly bodies and the very roiling of the seas and oceans, the birth pangs of the fulfillment of the heavenly kingdom.

Each of these four phases of salvation history draws us deeper into mystery of God and prepares us for what is yet to come. As Christians we are called to live in hope and not fear. In the uncertainty of our times, and the proliferation of every sort of doomsday prophet and prognosticator who warns us of the destructive forces of nature and the perhaps yet reversible effects of climate change, we are indeed challenged. But our challenge is not to live in fear, but to recognize that the Kingdom of God will be realized in time and history and that our ultimate goal – eternal life and salvation through Christ – is most certainly at hand.

This may not be an easy way to approach the struggles and challenges of life. Everything can be so overwhelming. We are living with a pandemic that seems not to end, enduring polarizing fanaticisms in social upheaval, and suffering through extremes weather phenomena. While it is impingent upon us who are disciples of Jesus Christ to do everything in our power to mitigate our response to, and participation in the worst of these elements, the truth seems to be that we are living through another historical period of significant change. This does seem to happen about every five-hundred years in recent millennia, and this time seems to be following that pattern.

We cannot know with any certainty that this is the end of times, but it is our time, and the Lord challenges us to bring healing, peace, and mercy to a broken world. We can choose to remain part of the problem, and give in to despair and disharmony, or we can see the hand of God at work in our midst and be agents of grace to the world.

This time of preparation is a time of conversion and commitment to living the Gospel message and acknowledging the Kingdom of God present in our midst.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.