First Reading Isaiah 2:1–5
Psalm Psalm 122:1–9
Second Reading Romans 13:11–14
Gospel Matthew 24:37–44
Gospel – Matthew 24:37–44
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.
Hearing the Word
“Pilgrimage to the House of the Lord”
The Liturgy of the Word during the Advent Season aims to provide believers with the right life orientation. The first Sunday of Advent meets this goal by clearly identifying the ultimate and definitive goal of human existence – final union with God. The pursuit of this goal turns human life into a pilgrimage to the “house of the Lord”.
Today’s liturgy, and the entire season of Advent, opens with the words of the prophet Isaiah recorded in the opening section of his book. In its first chapter, the prophet denounces the people of Israel and their sacred city, Jerusalem, for their delusions. Thinking themselves an enlightened and chosen race in possession of God’s word, many Israelites were expecting a glorious future and restoration of the Davidic kingdom to its former splendour. Yet, at the same time, they led a life that was leading in the opposite direction. It was a life of corruption, oppression, and frequent violations of God’s covenant. For this reason, the country was experiencing destruction and desolation caused by frequent foreign aggression. Still, many clung to the hope that Jerusalem, the city of David, would again be the seat of the nation’s political and military might, and the centre of a renewed Israelite empire in the future. It was to be a splendid earthly kingdom which would belong exclusively to the Israelites. Isaiah drastically redefined their expectations, speaking instead about the “mountain of the Lord”, Zion, to which all people will come to encounter God and to be instructed in his ways.
Mountains in the Scripture symbolise the place where people encounter God, and where divine instruction, the Torah, is given (cf. Exod chs 19–20). Isaiah used the symbol of the pilgrimage of all peoples to God’s mountain as a metaphor for a complete change of world order. This new order will be inclusive. All people, not only the Israelites, will be a part of it. It will be a new world of harmony, no longer a battlefield but a garden, not unlike the garden of Eden described in Genesis 2. The people will know no violence, having their swords remade into ploughshares and pruning hooks. This new order will follow God’s unique design, fashioned by God through instruction and just judgment. This design of God for the renewal of creation was a far cry from the earthly kingdom that the people of Jerusalem expected. Isaiah in his prophecy sought to channel their hopes towards a new creation, and away from the restoration of the glory of the Davidic kingdom.
In the second reading, Paul exhorts his audience to make a conscious choice of their life orientation. He begins by employing the Greek word kairos which means “a special time”. This special and unique time and situation in which Christians find themselves, is the era when promises outlined in the first reading reach their fulfilment in and through Jesus Christ. Paul writes that the final restoration of humanity and creation prophesized by Isaiah has already started with Jesus, and will be brought to conclusion by him, who is now the Risen Lord. Those who have faith in Jesus live in a time of transition between the “night”, that is the time before Jesus, and the “day”, which is the time of salvation. This special time requires a clear choice between living in the light or remaining in the night. Living in the light means walking the paths of the children of light by practising virtues which Paul presents in Rom 13:8-10 and 14:1– 5:6. Remaining in “the night” is a choice against Christ and for immorality and ignorance. By exhorting the faithful to symbolically “put on the Lord Jesus Christ”, Paul does not speak of the changing of one’s external appearance, but about a fundamental transformation of life. The right life focus for believers lies in the pursuit of union with Christ, with the aim of living in the light and walking towards eternal salvation.
The words of Jesus in the Gospel serve as a powerful confirmation of the necessity for a wise choice of life orientation. Today’s passage comes from Jesus’ last discourse, known as the “eschatological sermon” (Matt 24–25), where Jesus informs his disciples about the end of history. He reveals that history will conclude with his return as the “the Son of Man”, This return, known as parousia, will bring about restoration of humanity and creation in accordance with Isaiah’s prophecy.
In today’s passage, Jesus responds to the disciples’ question about the timing of parousia. (Matt 24:3). They asked this question with an evident intention of making preparations for Jesus’ return. Jesus’ answer was hardly satisfactory as he indicated that no one knows the exact timing of his return, it will occur unexpectedly. To emphasize this point he appeal to the example of Noah. Ordinary life will go on, just as it did in the time of Noah. Men and women will be going about their ordinary business, starting families, ploughing and grinding grain. Nothing will suggest that the world is coming to an end, just as there are no obvious signs of the thief’s approach. In view of the certainty of Christ’s coming and its unpredictability, the only acceptable attitude is constant preparedness. Jesus’ answer calls for watchfulness which shapes daily life. The disciples are never to lose sight of their destiny and journey through life with clear and constant awareness of the goal of their pilgrimage – an encounter with the returning Lord.
Today’s liturgy begins the Advent season, setting a clear perspective on life. Isaiah reminded the Israelites that God’s ultimate goal lies in the renewal of the entire creation and of humanity. God’s design for creation as conveyed by the book of Genesis is far different from the current state of the world. God’s purpose is the return to that original design. Paul taught his Christians that this restoration of creation has begun with Jesus Christ, and they are a part of that process. Their choices are meant to reflect the divine order through right moral conduct following Jesus’ teaching. Jesus called his disciples to keep their final destiny always in mind. Given the certainty of his return but uncertainty of its time, the disciples must go through life in a state of constant readiness to encounter the returning Lord. Ultimately, today’s liturgy gives assurance that the final horizon of human life is not the frightening prospect of judgment, punishment and destruction, but the renewal and restoration of creation. Believers’ lives are therefore a pilgrimage to God’s holy mountain, to a life as intended and created by God at the beginning of time. Justifiably, the Psalmist rejoices as he calls all the faithful to focus their life on God’s future, in the words, “let us go to the house of the Lord!”
Listening to the Word of God
Today’s liturgy calls for making choices that will orient our lives in the right direction. Every day we make choices, from the simple ones, like waking up in the morning, what to eat, what clothes to wear, what attitudes to adopt. Yet often we postpone important choices, especially those related to ethical decisions. Indecision, particularly as it relates to commitments to our faith has very negative consequences. An African proverb describes indecision stating that, “the hyena chasing two gazelles at the same time, will go to bed hungry.” The message of this proverb is that failure to decide is also a decision with disastrous results.
The life of faith may seem to be less exciting than that which is presented to us in media and movies as what a “great lifestyle” is like. There is tension between our faith, and the representations of an “exciting” life from the media. This creates moral confusion that may lead to a double life, as is seen in the passage from Isaiah, where the people of Israel were living lives of illusion and delusion. They thought that as long as they observed the rites and rituals prescribed by their religion, they could do what they wanted. Yet, the message of Isaiah was clear: the choice on whether to live according to God’s ethical principles was a choice that needed to be made today, not tomorrow.
One of the reasons for postponing the decision to live out our faith fully is a fear that a choice to follow Christ faithfully somehow deprives one of “enjoying” life and “missing out” on opportunities in life. The life of a devout Christian driven by commitment, passion and discipline, is often portrayed as devoid of joy, fun and adventure, and it leads to a boring life, full of endless rules. Yet, when one looks at the lives of popular personalities, for example in sports, their lives are successful only when they consistently live according to the principles of choice, passion, discipline and commitment. Think of your favourite sports star or another significant figure. He or she lives a highly disciplined, dedicated life, where all choices are made to ensure that they excel in the discipline or area of their choice. With these choices comes joy and a fulfilling life. These same principles apply in every kind of life, including our lives as Christians. We are being asked to make choices that reflect our Christian commitment in a disciplined, dedicated way, so that we can participate with Christ in transforming our lives, and the world around us. Surely, there is no greater joy that to be a change-maker in any situation that we find ourselves in. As we participate in bringing about change, we prepare for the coming of Jesus, who will bring complete change in the world. We must not be like hyenas who could not make a decision about their prey, and who lost it through indecision! The call to follow Christ and participate in the transformation of the world awaits us and requires a “now” choice. Today is the kairos moment of choice, choose life, choose Christ!
What is my greatest hope for my future? Is it in line with my Christian calling?
Am I like the hyena at the crossroads of my life, unable to choose the orientation of my life?
Response to God
I thank God for setting me on the right path towards himself and my heavenly home. I will express my gratitude in my daily prayer.
Response to your World
I will think of one area of my indecision that makes me stray from the path to God’s house, and take steps to overcome this difficulty.
How can we as a group of committed Christians demonstrate our choice for Christ, and what difference can we make to help others to do the same?
Thank you, Dear Lord, for the invitation to examine myself and make a decision in response to your call. Grant me the grace to choose your will and way, now, and not tomorrow. Transform me each day and open my eyes to opportunities around me where I can be an agent of change. Amen.