It may seem strange that on the first Sunday of Advent, a season we equate with joy by recalling the first coming of Christ, that our mass readings dwell on the second coming and the terror some may face as a result. These readings remind us there are two ways people will face the end of this age as we know it: with fear and hate or with courage and love.
Many things reported in our newspapers seem to indicate the end of this age is near. These reports include accounts of terrorists attempting to act as instruments of that end. They’ve chosen fear and hate as weapons to bolster their image as God’s avengers. This goes against everything we are taught as Christ’s followers. This Sunday’s readings indicate that just as God came into this world using love to save us from ourselves, he also taught us to put on the armor of blamelessness to ensure our security against the evils of our age. Our first reading from Jeremiah (Jer 33:14-16) tells of the Advent of a righteous king who would model that behavior.
“The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah. 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.”
Of course we know security is a rare commodity around the world today. With the recent bombings in Paris and promises by ISIS terrorists of more to come, it’s hard to see adopting love as an effective survival tactic. Yet our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thes 3:12—4:2) advises just that:
“May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, 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.”
Sure, that’s easy to buy when we’re reading it during the serenity of a mass, but what about when explosions are ringing in our ears and people are dying all around us, as happened in those Paris attacks? Survivors reported witnessing many people staying with dying loved ones when they could have fled the scene and saved their own lives. This is not new. As more such atrocities happen, we will read of more such acts of unselfish love and courage. Such courage is inspiring and the more such accounts we learn about, the more it will instill the attitude of readiness when our time comes to face God. In this twisted way, terrorists have done us a favor by revealing the spirit of God alive and well in His faithful ones. This will help us take to heart what Christ taught his disciples in Sunday’s Gospel reading from Luke (Lk 21:25-28, 34-36):
“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 like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. 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.”
I aspire to grow spiritually to be like those brave survivors in Paris who stayed by the side of their loved ones as the end of their world seemed imminent. They now have the contentment of knowing and showing how to welcome Christ as he ushers in a new beginning. I pray for the love and courage to meet that Advent.