1STSUNDAY OF ADVENT (Cycle A)

Readings:
Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:37-44

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

The two Testaments reveal God's divine plan for humanity, and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

Today is the First Sunday in Advent: There are five seasons in the Liturgical year. The other seasons are Christmas, Lent, and Easter. Ordinary time marks the time between the seasons of the Liturgical year. The season of Advent begins the eve of the fourth Sunday before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. The Christmas Season then begins with the vigil of the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord. The season of Advent is like awaiting the birth of a child. It is an odd mixture of happiness and contentment that is accompanied by nervousness and even anxiety of that for which we are waiting. In fact, Advent can be described as a season of waiting. And for what are we waiting? The entire community of the Church is waiting for what the prophet Isaiah wrote about in the 25th chapter of the Book of Isaiah. We are waiting for the day when God will remove the veil that separates people and nations from one another and from God (Is. 25:7). When that day comes, God will "wipe away the tears from every cheek," and we shall see things as they really are (Is 25:8; Rev 7:17; 21:4). At this season of the Liturgical year, we not only prepare to look back in time to Jesus' First Advent, when He came to earth as God enfleshed, but we are also looking forward in time to His promised Second Advent, at the end of time as we know it, when Jesus returns as King and divine Judge to gather all of His Church.

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Be Watchful and Be Prepared
Christians believe that death is not the end but that death is a beginning. At the end of our earthly lives, or if Christ's Second Advent precedes that event, each of us will be stepping out into an eternity of blessings or an eternity of sorrow. It was in the First Advent of Jesus the Messiah that both covenant blessings and judgments for the first time became eternal, unlike the temporal blessings and judgments of the Old Covenants in which both the righteous and the sinners awaited the coming of the Redeemer-Messiah in Sheol (in Greek Hades or the grave; see CCC 633 and Jesus' description of the netherworld in Lk 16:19-31).

God began to prepare the peoples of the earth for the eternity that awaits them through His holy prophets by laying out the choice between two destinies: the path that ends in life and the path that ends in death. In the First Reading, the 8th century BC prophet Isaiah wrote about the promised Messianic Age and the "light" of the Lord that will call all the peoples of the earth to receive the message of the path of salvation that will ultimately result in peace and justice for all peoples of all nations. The Messianic Era of Christ's Kingdom of the Church will end with the Second Advent of Jesus that will bring the Last Judgment for all peoples of the earth from every generation.

St. Paul warns us in the Second Reading and Jesus warns us in today's Gospel Reading that we must guard our lives with the obedience of faith to prepare for the day when Christ returns. We do not know the day or the hour of His coming ( Mt 24:36). Therefore, we must maintain our souls in a state of grace in readiness for our Savior's return. When Christ returns in glory as the King of the Universe, He will take us with Him, as the psalmist sings, rejoicing into the heavenly "house of the Lord" where we will experience the blessedness of eternal union with the Most Holy Trinity.

The First Reading Isaiah 2:1-5 ~ The Promise of the Messianic Age
1 This is what Isaiah, son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.  2 In days to come, the mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills.  All nations shall stream toward it; 3 many peoples shall come and say: "Come, let us climb the LORD'S mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths."  For from Zion shall go forth instruction and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.  4 He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples.  They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.  5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!

The 8th century BC, the prophet Isaiah received his prophetic calling in the year King Uzziah of Judah died (c. 740 BC). God sent him to the people of the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah to warn them of God's coming judgment against them. They apostatized from their faith by abandoning God for false pagan gods and in their failure to maintain His covenant with them. The inspired writer of Sirach writes that Isaiah "saw the last things, and comforted those who mourned in Zion" before the destruction of Jerusalem in 587/6 BC, and that "he foretold what should be till the end of time, hidden things yet to be fulfilled" (Sir 48:22-25).  The Book of Isaiah begins with a covenant judgment (Is 1:2-31) and moves to the promised of restoration in the Messianic Age (Is 2:1-5).  The book ends in a reverse of these messages with a vision of the universal gift of salvation (Is 66:18-21) and then concludes with a warning of divine judgment in the "Last Days" at the end of the Messianic Era (Is 66:22-24).

Chapter one of the Book of Isaiah begins with a covenant lawsuit (a riv in Hebrew) against God's disobedient covenant people (Is 1:2-31).  However between the introduction of the covenant lawsuit and its continuation in Isaiah 2:6-4:6, Isaiah offers a vision of the good that God has planned for a repentant and obedient people in the promised Messianic Age (Is 2:1-5; also see a repeat of the same promises in Mic 4:1-3).  It is the Messianic destiny that will ensure the covenant people's restoration; and, at that time, the Lord's "house," the seat of authority of the Messianic Kingdom, will be the source of instruction in true doctrine (Is 2:2-3).  All nations and peoples will be drawn to this truth and will accept the Messianic Kingdom's rule over them (Is 2:3-4a).  This universal invitation to worship the Lord and to "walk in the light of the Lord" will lead to a kind of peace with God that the earth has never known since before the Fall of Adam (Is 2:4b).

"Mount Zion" and "Jerusalem," the site of God's Temple in ancient times, are types of the earthly center of the Messianic Kingdom. They are symbolic images of Jesus' Kingdom of Heaven on earth, the universal Church. The First Advent of Jesus Christ fulfills Isaiah's prophecy announcing a universal salvation in the fullness of time and the establishment of the universal Kingdom of the (catholic) Church. It is the Church that provides true doctrine and instruction to the nations of the earth in preparation for the "end times" when Christ will return. At that time, He will return to establish God's justice and a universal peace in which physical death, which results from sin, is destroyed (Rev 20:13).  God will create a new heaven and earth (Rev 21:1-7, 10-27) in which one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again (Is 2:4b)And all the righteous will walk in the light of the LORD (Is 2:5) in the new Jerusalem where the city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light and its lamp was the Lamb.  The nations will walk by its light which is the Redeemer-Messiah and Lamb of God who is Jesus Christ (Rev 21:23-24a; see Is 2:5b)!

Responsorial Psalm 122
The response is: "Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord."

1 I rejoiced because they said to me, "We will go up to the house of the LORD."  2 And now we have set foot within your gates, O Jerusalem.
Response:
3 Jerusalem, built as a city with compact unity.  4 To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD.
Response:
According to the decree for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD.  5 In it are set up judgment seats, seats for the house of David.
Response:
6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!  May those who love you prosper!  7 May peace be within your walls, prosperity in your buildings.
Response:
8 Because of my relatives and friends I will say, "Peace be within you!"  9 Because of the house of the LORD, our God, I will pray for your good.
Response:

This psalm is the third of the pilgrimage psalms or "Songs of Ascents" that pilgrims sang as they made the journey to the city of Jerusalem and God's holy Temp (Ps 120-134).  The psalmist begins with expressions of his joy from the start of the journey with his friends and family to their arrival as they pass through the gates of the walled city (verses 1-2).  Next, he acclaims the city for the unity it brings to the twelve tribes of Israel when they go "up" to worship at God's Temple on Mount Moriah to give thanks to God for His blessings and for God's justice and judgment which are dispensed by the ruling "house of David" the king (verses 3-5). 

Having entered the holy city, the psalmist offers greetings of peace for the city, for those who live there, and also for those who have journeyed with him (verses 6-9).  In Scripture "peace/shalom" means all good things from God in abundance such as security (absence of conflict and war), prosperity, and peace in one's relationship with God, as in Jesus' favorite greeting "Peace be with you" (i.e., Jn 20:19).  It is the same greeting our priests, in the "person of Christ" (persona Christi) extend to the congregation at the beginning of our Eucharistic celebration.

Jesus also made pilgrimages to Jerusalem during His three year earthly ministry (i.e., see Jn 2:13; 7:2, 14; 10:22; 12:12).  He brought true instruction and the message of peace to Jerusalem (Lk 19:42), making this psalms His own.  However, the Jerusalem of Jesus' time did not accept His teaching and did not recognize Him as their Messiah.  Nevertheless, in the victory of His Resurrection, Jesus established the authority of the New Covenant in the Apostles and disciples who acknowledged Him as their promised Messiah, Savior, and Lord.  Through them He brought into being the Kingdom of the New Jerusalem in the universal Church which, at His return in His Second Advent at the end of time, will be seen in all its splendor as a perfectly built city of unity and universal salvation.  This was the vision St. John saw and described in symbolic language in Revelation 21:9-27.

The Second Reading Romans 13:11-14 ~ Awareness of the End Time
11 You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.  For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; 12 the night is advanced, the day is at hand.  Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy.  14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.

There is an expression of urgency in St. Paul's writing in this passage from his letter to the Church in Rome.  He warns of the necessity to make the best of the present time. He writes that Christians should stop sleeping and wake up because the time has come and the moment of "our salvation is nearer!"  St. Peter in his first great homily on Pentecost Sunday identified the age of man in which Jesus has come as the "Last Days" or the "Final Age" that is the Messianic Era (Acts 2:17).  St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:11 that all the events recorded in the Old Testament were written down for our benefit: Now all these things happened to them by way of example, and they were described in writing to be a lesson for us, to whom it has fallen to live in the last days of the ages.  We are in the interim period between the first Advent of Christ and His return: the Second Advent which is the "Day of the Lord's Coming in Glory," also called by the prophets "the Day of Yahweh" (see Amos 5:18).  

Paul calls this interim period between the First and Second Advents of Christ "the day of salvation" because it is the period of time allowed for conversion and entrance into heaven.  The duration of this interim period is uncertain.  In terms of the entire scope of human history, it must be viewed as a short period, and we must all use this "hour" that has been given us in this period of "time" wisely because without warning the end will come swiftly.  The end will come either to each of us when our individual life's journey is over in physical death or with the awaited Second Advent and the return of Christ the King.

12 the night is advanced, the day is at hand.  Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light ...
St. Paul is speaking in symbolic language by contrasting "night" & "day" and "darkness" & "light."  "Night" and "darkness" represent the force Satan exerts over man and the world while "day" and "light" represent the power of Christ. The theme of light versus darkness in the New Testament is most often expressed three different ways, and the "light" is both literal (as in Mt 17:2) and symbolic (as in Mt 4:16):

  1. Light as the sun: The sun is the light of the universe and lights man's way as he goes about his daily life.  In the same way, what shows the way to God can be compared to the "light" that is like the sun.  In the Old Testament, the "light" that showed the way to God was the Covenant bond with the Patriarchs before the Theophany at Sinai and the ratification of the Sinai Covenant.  After Sinai the "light" was the Covenant expressed in the Law of Moses and in Sacred Scripture, "the Word" that lighted the way for man to find God (see Ps 119:105; Prov 4:18-19; 6:23; Ecc 2:13; Jn 1:1-5 and Rom 2:19).  But it is in the Final Age of man that is the Messianic Age that we discover the true "Light" which shows the way for man to find God is the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ the "light of the world" (Jn 1:9; 8:12; 12:35; 1 Jn 2:8-11).
  2. Light as life: Life cannot exist without light and conversely the dark is symbolic of death.  In this imagery, darkness represents all that is associated with death, suffering, and enslavement while light symbolizes life, liberation and salvation; it is especially symbolic in the salvation and deliverance of the Messianic Age (see Job 30:26; Is 4:22-23; 9:1; 45:7; Mt 4:16 and Lk 1:79).  In the Messianic Age, this "light" of life is even available to the Gentile nations of the earth (Lk 2:32 and Acts 13:47) through Jesus Christ who is the true "light of the world" (Jn 1:9; 8:12; Eph 5:14); and the "Living Word" of God (Jn 1:1-5).
  3.  The battle in the Final Age of Man expressed in the contrast between light and darkness:  It is a battle between Christ the good King versus Satan and his forces of evil (Acts 26:18; 2 Cor 6:14-15; Col 1:12-13 and 1 Pt 2:9).  Each man and woman must choose which king or empire they will serve: Christ's Kingdom of Light that is the Church or Satan's Kingdom of Darkness (1 Thes 5:4ff; 1 Jn 1:6-7; 2:9-10).  Christians who serve Christ the King are "children of the light" while those who reject Christ and thereby chose Satan are "children of darkness" (Jn 12:36; Lk 16:8; Eph 5:7-9; 1 Thes 5:5).

In 2 Corinthians 4:4, St Paul writes of the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ.  It is Jesus who is the true "Light" for He is the one emissary of God who is "Light": "God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all" (1 Jn 1:5). And in the Gospel of Matthew 5:14, Jesus describes His disciples as "the light of the world" because His "light" shines in their lives, as St. Peter writes of Christians in 1 Peter 2:9 ~ But you are a chosen race, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, a people to be a personal possession to sing the praises of God who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.  

The coming of Christ, He who is the "Light of the world" (Jn 8:12), makes the distinction clear between one person or another because His light shows the true nature of every individual and there is no middle ground or shadow (Jn 3:19-21; 7:7; 9:39; 12:46; Eph 5:12-13).  At the Second Advent of Jesus Christ, the "darkness" will be overcome by "the Light" (Jn 1:5; Rom 13:12; 1 Jn 2:8), and "darkness" will disappear forever along with sin and death (Rev 20:14).  God will be the light of His servants: And night will be abolished; they will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will be shining on them.  They will reign for ever and ever" (Rev 22:5).

13 Let us live decently, as in the light of day; with no orgies or drunkenness, no promiscuity or licentiousness, and no wrangling or jealousy.  14 Let your armor be the Lord Jesus Christ, and stop worrying about how your disordered natural inclinations may be fulfilled.
How beautifully Paul urges the Christian to put off sin and to put on Christ, wearing Him as our protection and clothed for battle against sin in the armor of His grace.  Paul is calling every Christian to get ready for battle and to bear arms in preparation for the reign of Christ. However, the armor we are called to bear is not burdensome because the armor we are called to bear is the Light!  The early Christian writer Ambrosiaster, in his Commentary on this passage from Paul's Epistle to the Romans, wrote: To put on Christ means to cut oneself off from every sin and wickedness, so that at the wedding banquet one will not be found without a new garment and be shamefully thrown out into the darkness" (referring to Jesus' teaching in Mt 22:11-14 and the "wedding garment" of grace).

Notice that Paul lists six sins in verse 13.  On the 6th day of Creation, God created both man and the beasts. It was on the 7th day that man entered into "God's rest" (Gen 2:2-3), thereby being separated from the animals.  It is sin that identifies man with the beasts and separates him from God; therefore, the number six in Scripture often symbolizes man in rebellion against God.  Paul admonishes the Roman Christians to avoid sin just as he wrote to the Christians of Ephesus in Ephesians 4:17-5:20 to turn away from sin and to persevere in holiness.  In that letter, he also used the same light and darkness imagery: For you were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth ... Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light (Eph 5:8-9, 14). 

The Gospel of Matthew 24:37-44 ~ A Warning to Be Alert for the Day of His Coming
Jesus said to his disciples: 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming [Parousia] of the Son of Man.  38 In the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark.  39 They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away.  So will it be (also) at the coming of the Son of Man.  40 Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left.  41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left.  42 Therefore, stay awake!  For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.  43 Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into.  44 So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."  [..] = literal translation IBGE, vol. IV, page 74.  The Greek word parousia means "appearance" or "coming" and in the ancient secular world referred to a king coming to review and judge the loyalty of his vassal people.

There are three possible interpretations of this passage:

  1. The unknown time of the coming tribulation and judgment on the Jerusalem of Jesus' generation.
  2. The unknown hour of the Second Coming of the Christ at the end of time.
  3. The unknown moment of one's death, when each person will face divine judgment.

Jesus makes a point of comparing His coming in judgment to the days of Noah in verses 37-39.  The point is the unexpected nature of the final crisis.  In the days of Noah, people were doing the common things people do up to the moment they were swept away in the flood judgment.  It will be the same for us.  The point of the two people doing the same tasks with one "taken" and the other "left behind" points out not only the common theme of daily life that will be suddenly ended in the crisis but also the division that will come about "when the Son of Man will come" (verse 44) in judgment (see Jesus' teaching on division in Mt 10:34-35). 

42 Therefore, stay awake!  For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.  43 Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into.  44 So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."
Jesus urges vigilance since the exact time of His return is unknown.  The comparison of such an unexpected event to a thief plundering a man's house appears five times in the New Testament (Mt 24:43; 1 Thes 5:2; 2 Pt 3:10; Rev 3:3; 16:15).  In verse 44, Jesus urges all of us, men and women of every generation, to prepare for His coming in the hour of our death and in the final hour for all mankind. 

For centuries Christians have attempted to calculate the day of Christ's return, but it is foolish for people to speculate about the time of Christ's Second Coming.  Jesus said: But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone (Mt 24:36).  It is better, therefore, to live as though He is coming in the next minute and to keep one's life continually right with God and free from sin.  Jesus warned His disciples in Matthew 24:22-23, if anyone tells you he knows when Jesus is coming, avoid that person because he is a false prophet (see CCC 1040).

We must be ready for Christ's return by continually turning away from sin and back to God by living in a state of grace and in communion with our Lord.  If we are not prepared, we will be like the five foolish virgins of Jesus' parable in Matthew 25:1-13; we will not be ready for Jesus our "Bridegroom" who is our also our Lord and King." His Parousia (an ancient Greek word meaning "presence, arrival, or official visit") will be as Jesus warned when He said: So stay awake, because you do not known either the day or the hour! (Mt 24:42).  And as St. Paul warns in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 ~ We can tell you this from the Lord's own teaching, that we who are still alive for the Lord's coming will not have any advantage over those who have fallen asleep.  At the signal given by the voice of the Archangel and with the trumpet of God, the Lord himself will come down from heaven; those who have died in Christ will be the first to rise, and only after that shall we who remain alive be taken up in the clouds, together with them, to meet the Lord in the air.  This is the way we shall be with the Lord for ever.  But we shall only meet Him in glory if we are watchful and prepared!

Catechism References:
Isaiah 2:2-5 (CCC 64); 2:2-5 (CCC 762); 2:4 (CCC 2317)
Matthew 24:44 (CCC 673)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013, revised 2016