Gospel Reflection for Dec. 1:
As we begin a new Liturgical Year, and actually as we begin anew the triennial cycle of Readings, we are struck with the clear apocalyptic message coming from Jesus. Most of us expect that the First Sunday of Advent should prompt us to think about the coming Christmas season. The main thrust of the Advent Readings, however take us to the Second Coming of Christ at the end of the world, instead of the reflection on the Incarnation. As we move through the Season, but not until the final Sunday, do we begin to consider Christmas.
The First Reading, from the second chapter of Isaiah, was written during a time when the survival of Jerusalem was at stake. As the Assyrians were bearing down on the Northern Kingdom of Israel, the prospects for war and destruction stood as a constant threat for the Southern Kingdom as well. Yet, the prophet foresees not destruction, but the day when Jerusalem becomes the beacon for all nations. In Isaiah, we see that the movement in theological thinking is shifting from God’s plan for his chosen people to God’s plan for all of his creation. This development continues to emerge, especially in the Isaiah prophecies, over the next several centuries.
There is already a universal call to holiness present within the understanding of God among the Israelites long before the time of Jesus. In later Judaism an apocalyptic mindset emerges, which stands as a prefiguring of the apocalypticism of Jesus and the early Christian communities. There exists within the apocalyptic imagination of most Christians of judgment and fear at the thought of the coming of God’s Kingdom. This is often highlighted in the over and misuse of the word “apocalypse” in literary and cinematic contexts. It is true that Jesus and the apostles challenge us about being prepared for the coming of the kingdom, but we often then lose sight of the hope that the coming of the kingdom bears for each of us.
The word “apocalypse” means a revelation of that which is hidden. While the images are often startling, apocalyptic literature is always hope-filled. We need to be prepared and ready for the coming of the Lord, but the message remains that if we are ready, then any strife and suffering is passing and pales in comparison to the glory to come.
Watchfulness and preparedness are the hallmarks of alert discipleship. The past few weeks of liturgical Readings have pointed that out to us. Reading the sign of the times is characteristic of discernment, and regardless of our station-in-life, discernment is a necessary aspect of discipleship. Like anything else in our lives, we can either be hopeful or hopeless. It is essential for the disciple of Jesus to remain hopeful even in the midst of the most desperate of situations.
There is no doubt that we are living in challenging times. The effects of climate change, political dissention here and throughout the world, terrorism, addiction, secularism, persecution, the list seems almost endless, cause many to feel disarmed and ill-at-ease.
While we might want to escape the world, and some Christians and other religious groups do, discipleship demands that we pay attention and take action, even when and precisely because the world doesn’t want us to. The more the world wants to silence the disciples of Jesus the louder and bolder we must proclaim the truth of the Gospel.
Yet at the same time, we all know that ultimately our destiny is not here, it is the Kingdom of God. We work in this world, but our focus is on the work we do for the next. Our goal to change the world is not so that we can live in safety and contentment but so that we might lead others to salvation.
As we begin our Advent Season we are called to be a people of hope and not despair; to live in the certainty that the Kingdom of God is at hand.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.