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Commentary to the 1st Sunday in Advent – YearEAR C

Fernando Armellini - Sat, Nov 27th 2021


Dropping our arms, resigning ourselves to the overwhelming power of sin that dominates us and the world: this is a dangerous temptation. Prophets of doom are those who repeat: ‘It is not worth the effort, nothing will ever change’; ‘there is nothing to be done, evil is too strong’; ‘hunger, wars, injustice, hatred will always exist.’

They are not to be listened to. Those who, like Paul, "have assimilated the thought of Christ" (1 Cor 2:16), see reality with different eyes, glimpse the new world that is being born, and optimistically announce to all: "Right now it is sprouting, do you not see it?" (Is 43:19).

In our personal lives, we experience failures, miseries, weaknesses, infidelities. We are unable to detach ourselves from defects and bad habits. Unbridled passions dominate us; we are forced to adapt to a life of painful compromises and humiliating hypocrisies. Fears, disappointments, remorse, unhappy experiences make us unable to smile. Will it still be possible to recover confidence in ourselves and others? Will someone be able to give us back serenity, confidence, and peace?

There is no condition of slavery from which the Lord cannot free us; there is no abyss of guilt from which He does not want to lift us up. He expects that we become aware of our condition and turn to him the words of the psalmist: "From the depths, I cry to you, O Lord."

 To internalize the message, we will repeat: "I am sure: the Lord will fulfill the promises of good that he has made."


First Reading: Jeremiah 33:14-16

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; this is what they shall call her: “The Lord our justice.” —The Word of the Lord.

Rebuilding a house when one still has before one's eyes the smoldering embers of the previous one requires uncommon fortitude, significantly if one is already advanced in years and is not sustained by stimulating prospects. Disappointment and discouragement make one lose enthusiasm and make difficulties seem insurmountable.

The situation of the Israelites to whom the prophet addresses the words contained in this reading can be compared to that of a sad person staring at the ruins of his own home. A group of exiles returned from Babylon and found the city of Jerusalem in ruins. The devastated land has become a refuge for jackals (Jer 10:22). They look around and see only signs of death and destruction.

Reconstruction begins, but the work proceeds slowly. Dark foreboding hangs over everyone's soul, even though no one wants to let it show. They say, ‘we will close our eyes and be reunited with our fathers before we see the new Jerusalem.’ They ask themselves: how is it that such grave misfortunes have struck us? Has God abandoned us forever? Has he forgotten the promises he made to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, to David?

To these discouraged people, the prophet addresses a message of hope: “our infidelities, those that have brought us to ruin, will not prevent the Lord from fulfilling his promises because he is still faithful” (v. 14).

“The days are coming—he says—when a righteous shoot will spring up in David's family that will 'exercise judgment and justice'" (v.15).  If God's judgment and justice were forensic, the Israelites should expect nothing but a verdict of condemnation. But he never comes to pronounce judgment; he comes to create justice, his justice that consists of people's involvement in his plan of salvation.

The change of the name of Jerusalem indicates the complete success of his work. The city—the image of all the people—will be called Lord-Our-Righteousness, that is: “the Lord has succeeded in instilling in us his righteousness” (v.16).

The prophet's promises aroused in many the hope of a prodigious intervention of God to put the destroyed city back on its feet. They were disappointed. The reconstruction of the country was slow and required many sacrifices and much effort. The promises took a long time to come true, but God kept them. The sprout of David awaited by the Israelites—as we know it today—was sent: Jesus of Nazareth. With him, the kingdom of peace and justice has begun. It is still a small tree that develops slowly and needs our commitment and our collaboration.

Those who are discouraged, those who give up in the face of difficulties, those who become intolerant of themselves and others, those who pretend to obtain radical and immediate transformations have not understood the rhythms of growth of the kingdom of God.

A true prophet is someone who helps us see the signs of the new world that is dawning, someone who instills confidence and hope, someone who makes us understand that there is no future for the kingdom of evil, someone who, even in desperate situations, knows how to point out a way to recover, to rebuild a life that in people’s eyes may seem irreparably destroyed.

 Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 3:12–4:2

Brothers and sisters: 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. Amen.

Finally, brothers and sisters, we earnestly ask and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that, as you received from us how you should conduct yourselves to please God—and as you are conducting yourselves—you do so even more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. —The Word of the Lord.

This passage was chosen as the second reading for this First Sunday of Advent because it speaks of the coming of the Lord Jesus with all his saints (3:13), and we are also told how we are to prepare for this coming. Addressing the Christians of Thessalonica, Paul recognizes that they are outstanding, but he asks the Lord to make them grow even more in mutual love (v.12). This—he says—is the path that leads to holiness and is the only way to wait vigilantly for the coming of the Lord (v.13).

The Apostle's words are also valid for today's communities that are preparing to welcome the Lord. Mutual relations are probably already quite good, but there is always room for improvement. Perhaps there is still some misunderstanding to be overcome, some conflict to be resolved, some tension to be eased. The search for understanding with everyone, the practice of mutual love, which Paul recommends to the Thessalonians, cannot be replaced by any devotional practice (even a good one) we try to prepare for Christmas.

 Gospel: Luke 21:25-28,34-36

Jesus said to his disciples: “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. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.

“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.” —The Gospel of the Lord.

Faced with the dramatic and very explicit expressions with which today's Gospel begins, one is inclined to think that Jesus is giving in advance some information about what will happen at the end of the world. This is how the text has often been interpreted, not only by the fanatics of fundamentalist sects but also, in the past, by some preachers in our churches.

The succession of events narrated is chilling: signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, the powers of the heavens being upset, and on earth the terrifying roar of the sea shaken by a frightening storm. It seems the ideal intro to the scene of the angels who, with their trumpets, come to awaken the dead and to the apparition, on the clouds of heaven, of Christ, the judge. A severe judge (it is difficult to imagine him different, knowing what the history of humankind has been, at least until today) who has come to pronounce his final verdict.

The threatening announcement of the end of the world today is less frightening: it upsets some people psychologically and makes those who should shake us, make us reflect, bring us back to reason, smile instead. If Jesus' objective were to instill fear, he would not have reached his goal.

Jesus does not intend to arouse fear but to obtain precisely the opposite. He wants to free us from fear, arouse joy, instill hope. We will see that he is not threatening cataclysms but announcing a happy event. So let us try to understand the meaning of this challenging passage because it uses a language that is no longer our own.

To describe a significant change, a radical transformation of the world, a decisive intervention of God, the Bible is used to employ impressive images—the so-called apocalyptic images—widely used by preachers and writers of Jesus' time.

First, let us note that the elements mentioned (the sun, the moon, the stars, the powers of the heavens, the sea) are the same ones that appear in the creation account. The book of Genesis begins with the words: "The earth was formless and deserted, and darkness covered the deep" (Gen 1:2). No light, no form of life, all was disorder and darkness until God intervened with his word. Then the sun and the moon appeared to regularly mark the rhythms of days, nights, and seasons.

The sea—imagined by the ancients as a mythical monster—invaded the earth, but God enclosed it between two gates... he put a bolt-on it and said: 'This far you shall come and no further, and here shall the pride of your waves be broken'" (Job 38,8-11). Thus, chaos was transformed into cosmos, and the earth became habitable for humans, animals, and plants.

In our passage, an opposite movement is announced: a return to the primordial chaos is described. The forces that maintain order in the universe are said to be disrupted; we regress to the confused, formless, and dark situation that existed before creation. The apocalyptic images used by Jesus do not refer to explosions of stars, catastrophic collisions of stars and planets but speak of what is happening today. In our world, it is becoming impossible to live; abuses and injustices are committed, there are hatred, violence, wars, inhuman conditions, nature itself is destroyed by the thoughtless exploitation of resources, and even the rhythms of time and the seasons are no longer regular.

Anguished people ask themselves: what will happen? Where will we end up? Here is the fear. Faced with the evil that dominates them and that they cannot control, people only know how to be frightened and tremble: “People will faint with fear at the mere thought of what is to come upon the world,” says today’s Gospel (v. 26). It is the terror that people feel in the face of the disasters they have caused with the rejection of every ethical law, with the contempt of the most sacred values, with the loss of all moral reference points.

Is the history of humankind headed towards an inevitable catastrophe? No—Jesus assures us (and this is the central message of the passage)—but rather towards a new creation. Wherever there are signs of the disorder caused by sin, the Son of Man is to be awaited with power and great glory. His power will bring a new world out of chaos (v. 27). The danger that Jesus wants to warn against is fear and discouragement in the face of evil. He invites us to open our hearts to hope: the world dominated by injustice, wickedness, selfishness, and arrogance has come to an end, and a new one has already sprung up.

What to do while we wait? (v. 28). Although the chaos that still exists is frightening, the disciple does not stoop. He does not bow down like other people bent by anguish, stunned by fear. He stands up and raises his head. He does not wait for a prodigious intervention by God; he does not cradle in the vain hope that something might suddenly change due to some unexpected coincidence preordained by heaven.

The new world can be born from any chaotic situation; it is enough to let the word of God operate, as it happened at the beginning of creation. How many people do we see walking ‘hunched over,’ oppressed by pain and misadventures, shrunken by fear? They do not have the strength to lift their heads because they have lost all hope: the wife abandoned by her husband, the parents disappointed by the choices of their children, the professional ruined by the envy of their colleagues, those who are victims of hatred and violence, the people who feel at the mercy of their instincts...

Today's Gospel invites everyone to ‘lift up their heads.’ There is no chaos from which God cannot create a new and wonderful world. This world comes into being the very instant we allow God to make his Advent in our lives.

Faced with the forces of evil that always seem to have the better of us, besides discouragement, there is the danger of flight, the search for palliatives, false solutions (vv.34-35). Luke—who perhaps has an eye on the behavior of some Christians in his communities—crudely lists them. He mentions first the crapola, the drunkenness. They are the symbol of all iniquity, of all the evasions and dissipations through which we try to anesthetize our disappointments and failures. These evasions are a snare (v. 35), a trap in which many people fall, become failing to meet the Lord who comes.

How can we remain awake, attentive, ready to seize the moment and the place where the Lord comes? It is very easy to get confused, be deceived, wait for him where he is not coming, and prevent him from entering (in our bad habits, in our attachment to the goods of this world, in our projects of greatness...).

There is only one way to remain vigilant: to pray (v. 36). Prayer, says Jesus, will have two effects: it will give us the strength to "escape all those things that are about to happen," that is, it will make us see all events with God's eyes, and it will prevent us from being seized by fear. Nothing will frighten us because we will know how to grasp in every event—happy, sad, and even dramatic—the Lord who comes, who comes to make us grow, to make us mature, to bring us closer to him.

Prayer will also allow us to stand, that is, to wait without fear for the Son of Man. It will make us ready to welcome him and leave with him towards those spaces of freedom where he wants to lead us. Prayer frees us from the corrupt mentality of this world, making us savor and taste God's judgment on history, and that brings us closer to people.

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