Gospel reflection for Dec. 3 2023, First Sunday of Advent
As we enter the Season of Advent we get caught up with the excitement and stress of the holiday season. The anticipation and excitement of children can be infectious as they impatiently await the arrival of Santa Claus. For parents and grandparents, especially in this economic environment, the anxiety can certainly outweigh the excitement. That which should be pleasurable is more stressful than pleasant. Our Gospels now shift to the urgency and apocalyptic imagery of Mark. This Gospel, written at a time when the destruction of Jerusalem was a present reality, offered a stark image of the final days. The warning that Jesus utters in this Gospel is delivered in the precincts of that same Temple which was still under construction when Jesus was there. Mark, along with the other evangelists were able to draw clear connections between the apocalyptic warnings of Jesus and the destruction of the Temple.
The followers of Jesus, prepared for his Second Coming and the final judgment, needed to find new ways of understanding what Jesus meant by the urgency of his teaching and the coming of the Kingdom. Many of them believed that Jesus would return in their lifetimes, so the generational delay from the time that Jesus delivered his sermon to the time that Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed, raised new questions.
While much of Jesus’s language about the Kingdom was imminent and immediate, many of his parables -- some of which we have heard over the final weeks of Ordinary Time -- highlight this delay, encouraging and warning his followers not to grow complacent in the meantime.
The end of a calendar year reminds us always of the passing of time. We reflect on the gains and losses, the blessings and challenges of the current year and we anticipate with hope and weariness that the new year will bring.
In a particular way the current conflagration between Israel and the Palestinians ramps up the apocalyptic fervor of many Christians. While heeding the signs of the times, they interpret either Scripture or apparitions in ways that serve to fuel and favor that narrative. While this has happened since the very beginning of the Church, each time events seem to be ripe, there are those who speak definitively about the end coming now. Some are so bold -- perhaps arrogant is a better term -- as to even announce specific dates for the Second Coming. They are always wrong and always will be.
The question each one of us asks instead of when Jesus is returning is what should I be doing in the meantime.
In keeping with the general themes of the readings for the end of the liturgical year. Jesus warns his disciples to be alert. This can be understood in two ways. First, we might see alertness as standing watch and announcing his coming as we see the signs which point there. This, however, is futile as then the work of bringing about the kingdom goes undone. Like the fable of “the boy who cried wolf,” harbingers of the end go largely unheeded. Alertness can and should convey the message of preparedness -- living our lives as steady and faithful disciples always ready for the coming of the Lord, but also working diligently for the coming of the Kingdom.
The words of Jesus -- even the most dire and apocalyptic warnings -- ought not to bring about fear and distress, but rather hope and consolation, for then indeed the Kingdom of God is truly at hand.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.