Sunday Sermon for December 2, 2018, 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 readings today we look back to the promise of the coming of the Messiah, we learn a lesson about how to conduct our lives in the present world, and we look forward to the second coming of our Lord at the end of the world. While this does not seem to make much sense, it is actually very practical: we learn from the first coming of our Lord so we are prepared for His second coming. This means we live in the present according to what our Lord taught us while He was in the world and what He teaches us now through His Church.
First, we look back to learn what we can about our Lord’s first coming into the world. Jeremiah lived more than five hundred years before our Lord was born, but he speaks of Jesus as a “righteous shoot” who will be raised up for David. This tells us two things that were already known regarding the Messiah. The first is that He would be born of David’s line which means He would be born of the tribe of Judah. The kings following David were anything but righteous; only two of the fifty two kings after David were even decent: Josiah and Hezekiah. The only thing that can be said about the others is that they were not as bad as those who came after them.
The second thing we know from this statement is that the “house of David” would be reduced to ruins. If we think of the glory of this “house” being like a tree in full bloom, then the reduction of that house to rubble is like the tree being cut down with only the stump remaining. This is actually the image being used. In Israel there are many olive trees; when an olive tree is cut down, new shoots begin to appear around the stump which will eventually grow into new olive trees. So, this is not just a prediction that a baby would be born to be a new shoot or a new offspring, but it tells us about the condition of the house of David when the baby will be born.
Needless to say, this was important information for those looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. They knew not to look for Him among the priestly Tribe of Levi or among the Benjaminites. They also knew the Messiah would not come while there was a Davidic king on the throne in Israel; rather, the monarchy would have to be removed and the house of David cut down. The Messiah would not come into a proud and prominent family, but He would be born of a people that was lowly and humbled.
While all this is true, we already know Who the Messiah is, of what Tribe He was born, and even the humble nature of His birth, so why is this important to us now? First, we need to see that Jesus is the fulfillment of what God had promised, not just a wonder worker who people may have mistaken as the Messiah. And this is important for us as we look forward to the second coming. While the Person is the same, we need to consider the circumstances.
For many years in the Church the Pope was also the emperor. God is not going to come while the Church is in its glory. Many years passed between the last of the kings in Israel and the coming of the Messiah. It has been more than a century since the Pope was also the Emperor. The Church is being cut down and humbled, but it is certainly not there yet. We definitely want to give God our best and praise Him for His glory, but when we remember the humility of Jesus in His Incarnation and in His Passion and see the glory and prestige of the Church today, we recognize there is a disconnect. Like the house of David, the Church needs to be cut down and humbled before our Lord will come.
In the Gospel, Our Lord tells us about the signs that will occur prior to His return, but He also warns us not to become drowsy from carousing, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life He reminds us to be vigilant and pray. The people of our Lord’s time became drowsy; the people at the end time will do the same. In our day, many have become spiritually drowsy. St. Paul prayed that we would abound in love, be blameless in holiness, and conduct ourselves in a way pleasing to God. Only by following our Lord’s warning and St. Paul’s advice will we avoid falling into spiritual drowsiness and be ready when the Son of Man comes in His power and glory.
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.