This coming Sunday is the start of a new liturgical year (Year C) and the first Sunday in Advent. The gospel is apocalyptic and seems, at first glance, an odd way to begin to run-up to Christmas. But then Advent was never meant to be a “run-up” to Christmas. The previous Sunday celebrates the Solemnity of Christ the King which portends the “age to come.” Advent is no less striking in its meaning – celebrating the two turning of the ages: the revelation of the reign of God and the birth of the Messiah. It is apocalyptic, but it also is a call to vigilance.
25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon 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 But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” [ 29 He taught them a lesson. “Consider the fig tree and all the other trees. 30 When their buds burst open, you see for yourselves and know that summer is now near; 31 in the same way, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.] 34 “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise 35 like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. 36 Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:25-36; note vv.29-33 are not part of the proclaimed Gospel reading)
Context in Advent. The season of Advent (Latin for “coming to”) begins with a look to the future coming (parousia in Greek) of the Son of Man. (n.b.: the phrase “second coming” doesn’t occur in scriptures!) One wonders why this would be the first gospel of Advent for this year. Shouldn’t we be looking ahead to the coming of Jesus as a baby in Bethlehem? The subsequent Sundays in Advent for this year do exactly that. I would suggest that the Church wants to remind us that the coming promised is already and continuing to be here. In Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, by N. T. Wright suggests that the “reappearing” of Jesus might be a better phrase — and one that was used by some early Christians.
“He is, at the moment, present with us, but hidden behind that invisible veil which keeps heaven and earth apart, and which we pierce in those moments, such as prayer, the sacraments, the reading of scriptures, and our work with the poor, when the veil seems particularly thin. But one day the veil will be lifted; earth and heaven will be one: Jesus will be personally present, and every knee shall bow at his name; creation will be renewed; the dead will be raised; and God’s new world will at last be in place, full of new prospects and possibilities.” (p. 219)