Sunday Sermon for November 28, 2021, the First Sunday of Advent, Year C
Readings: Jer 33:14-16; 1 Thes 3:12-4:2; Lk 21:25-28, 34-36
In the first reading, the Prophet Jeremiah tells us the days are coming when the Lord will fulfill the promise He made to Israel and Judah, that is, He will raise up a righteous shoot to David. That Shoot, of course, is our Blessed Lord. Jeremiah goes on to say that in His days, Judah will be safe and Jerusalem will dwell secure. On one hand this was certainly true because of the Roman occupation of the Holy Land. At the same time, this is certainly not how the average Jewish person would have understood this passage.
Even worse, we know that within one generation of our Lord’s physical presence in the Holy Land, Jerusalem was destroyed and all of Judah and Israel with it. The people who were not killed on that terrible day were scattered over various parts of the earth. Everything was given to them, including their long-awaited Messiah, but they rejected Him, gave themselves over to abominable practices, and were exiled from their land due to their disobedience.
Jesus offered them true freedom, but they chose slavery instead. Not slavery to the Romans, but slavery to sin and selfishness in a practical rejection of God. This brief historical overview is not just an interesting point of ancient history, but a warning for us and a basic blueprint of what the world can expect if it follows the pattern of the ancient Jewish people.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus speaks about the events surrounding His Second Coming. While we do not see all of the signs He mentioned being fulfilled, His admonition is something we must take to heart. He instructed us to not allow our hearts to become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and from the anxieties of daily life. He told us to be vigilant and to pray for the strength to escape the tribulations and stand before the Son of Man.
It does not require much effort to recognize that the hearts of many have grown weary. The anxiety levels are off the charts right now. The psychologists tell us we are dealing with narcissism at an unprecedented level. The vigilance our Lord commanded has become negligence on the part of many. Having closed the churches and told the people of God that Mass and the Sacraments were not essential, many people have responded to the reopening of the churches by staying home. They got the message: if it was not essential to pray and receive the Sacraments during the time of fear, it is certainly not essential to go to Mass or to pray when the fear is subsiding.
Perhaps it is most providential that we have these readings now with everything that is happening around us. Maybe we have given in to the worldliness, the selfishness, the materialism, or anything else that would make our hearts grow drowsy. Maybe we have allowed our prayer life to slip or we do not avail ourselves of the Sacraments as frequently as we did previously. If we do not move forward in our faith and in our relationship with God, then we will begin to fall backward.
This is why the Church gives us the second reading today wherein St. Paul instructs us to strengthen our hearts to be holy and blameless before God. He also tells us that if we are conducting ourselves in a manner pleasing to God, it is necessary to make still further progress. We must make prayer a major priority in our lives. If we do not set aside the time to speak with God and develop our relationship with Him, our faith will grow tepid or even cold and we will lose the love and zeal we need to have for serving God and one another.
We must learn from the lessons of the past: Judah and Jerusalem would have been perfectly secure if they would have turned to the Lord. Instead, they turned away from Him. We have the same thing happening today. As people lose their zeal for the spiritual life, they give themselves more and more to the material world. Instead of seeking the Lord, such people begin to seek only themselves; instead of striving to please the Lord, they give themselves over to the gratification of their own desires.
It is time that we renew, and even double, our efforts in the prayer life. If our hearts are not going to be drowsy, they must be filled with love for our Lord. We will have complete peace and security if we are united with our Lord. Even if we are made to suffer, we can still be at peace and be witnesses to the Lord. If we are already conducting ourselves in a way pleasing to God, it is time we do even more.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.