First Sunday of Advent • Year C

Paul W. Galetto, O.S.A.
Church of Our Mother of Good Counsel
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania

Jer 33:14-16
Ps 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14
1 Thes 3:12 – 4:2
Lk 21:25-28, 34-36

“A new lease on life.” “A second chance.” “Time to change course.” “Turn the page.” “The end is only the beginning.” We have all heard these phrases at one time or another. What we started out doing didn’t go as we had planned. There is a myriad of reasons this may have happened: The project was bigger than we thought. There were problems of which we were not aware. We didn’t have the resources we needed. We grew tired and gave up. We procrastinated and it got beyond us. This list of reasons and excuses is long.

Advent is the time for us to reassess – to take account of ourselves. Are we where we wanted to be at this stage of our lives? How is our relationship with God and neighbor? Not only what can we do better but what MUST we do better? As a hospital chaplain I have come to see that spending time in the hospital is not only good for the body, but it is great for the soul. Many times, a sickness is a wake-up call. We become aware of our vulnerabilities and mortality. For many, the time spent lying in the hospital bed in-between doctors’ rounds and the next X-ray or test is a grace-filled opportunity to reflect and reassess – what have I done with my life? The patient thinks about him or herself and this is a good thing! What would even be better is if each of us did this without the imminence of death hanging over us. We can change and many times we know we must change. The Church offers us this spiritual time of Advent because we believe that God cares for us and wants us to return to the path of healing, grace and peace.

Today’s first reading from Jeremiah is a case in point. The hope-filled oracle we hear from the prophet comes at a time of great difficulty for him and the Chosen People. The kingdom of Judah was the target of the Babylonian kings. The leaders of the Jewish people had asked Jeremiah what they should do. Jeremiah told them that they could be saved if they would just remain faithful to God. They did not heed what the prophet told them. Consequently, Jeremiah proclaimed that due to the infidelity of the leaders and the people, the kingdom was doomed to defeat. Jeremiah was accused of being a traitor and was imprisoned. This is his situation when he makes this optimistic oracle. His nephew comes to him and offers to sell him some property. Who in their right mind would buy property when a city is about to be overcome by an invading army? Yet this is what Jeremiah does to show that God has not given up on the Chosen People. Even though they have failed God and have not been faithful, God will remain faithful. God will send a Messiah (“a just shoot”) to rescue his people. It is time to turn the page, get a new lease on life and have a second chance. What God promised to the Chosen People in that very dark and dangerous time, God also promises to us: there is no failure from which we cannot recover. All that we need is a change of heart – a metanoia.

In today’s second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he encourages them to “strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus…” These words are not ancient advice that remains in the past, but they are a call to you and me to check our GPS (i.e. God Positioning System) and to make sure we are on track to our final destination. Do we need to change course? If so, Advent is the time for it.

In the Gospel today Jesus looks around Jerusalem and reads the signs of the times. The city is ripe for failure because so many things are out of whack. This is not some divinely inspired prophecy; it is an honest assessment. The objective observer would have agreed with Jesus. What would the objective observer say about our lives? Are we loving or are we angry? Are we kind and generous or are we selfish and self-absorbed? Are we engaged with helping others or lazy and uninterested? Are we prayerful and self-reflective or are we complaining and obstinate? The only way we will avoid a destruction that is similar to the one that awaited the people at the time of Jeremiah and the time of Jesus is to take advantage of the opportunities that await us in Advent. We must reassess our lives and redirect ourselves if we see that we are headed down the wrong road. How do we honestly describe our faithfulness to God and God’s Word? It is not too late to change course and correct our compass so that we don’t become lost. Advent is an opportunity to recalibrate and redirect. “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 God.”