On the Gospel of Matthew 24:37-44
First Sunday of Advent
The decorations are up in the streets, the advertisements are on TV, we go to Mass expecting some Christmas spirit… and we get this?: ‘you too must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect…’ The idea of a dramatic second coming, the need for vigilance, are not thoughts we normally associate with Christmas. Has the Church made a mistake?
It’s certainly true that, in Advent, the Church is out of step with the world. For the commercial world, the months before Christmas are a time to promote Christmas spirit, all with the aim of encouraging consumption. But for the Church, we prepare for the great feast of Christmas by entering a more sombre period: Advent is a time to fast, to pray, and to wait expectantly for the coming of Our Saviour.
Our waiting has a twofold dimension though. On the one hand, we recreate the waiting of Israel for its Messiah, and on Christmas Day we celebrate the fulfillment of Israel’s centuries of hope. But we are also waiting for the Second Coming of Jesus, when ‘the Lord Himself will descend from heaven’ (1 Thess 4:16). For the early followers of Christ, this Second Coming was understood to involve destruction (2 Peter 3:10) and resurrection (1 Thess 4:16). These images are rarely associated with the Infant in the crib at Bethlehem, but it is perhaps instructive to remind ourselves that Jesus was not sent merely to appear as a cute baby, but also to be crucified, to rise from the dead, and to return in glory. We find ourselves in the middle of the story of Christ’s mission – this Sunday’s gospel reminds us not to forget that this story has a glorious ending.
The thought of Christ’s Second Coming is a frightening one for some believers. For others, it seems mythological, hardly worthy of belief. For still others, it is an endless source of fascination – when will it happen, who will be saved, what will be the sequence of events? Perhaps the best approach, though, is one of simple trust and confidence. Our Lord who came to dwell among us in Bethlehem will come again – in the meantime we stay awake and hope, so that when he comes, our words may be those of the Psalmist: ‘I rejoiced when I heard them say: “Let us go to God’s house”’ (Psalm 121).
For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.