Advent is an unexpected and unwanted liturgical season. Yet, although no early Christian would have created Advent it is necessary, helpful, and potentially joyful. Let us look at why.
Advent means coming. It is often assumed that this is the coming of Jesus at his birth. This is less than half correct. Most of the prayers and readings for Advent are directed to Jesus’ return. Advent is divided into two sections “Early Advent” which extends from today to Dec 16th. Here, the attention is clearly on the Jesus’ return and the establishment of the Kingdom. As you have probably noticed, the Sunday readings for the last two weeks have also dwelt with this theme. The Nativity is emphasized only from the 17th to the 25th of December. We are clearly being called to look at and for the return of Jesus.
The Jews believed in a God of Justice. The psalms frequently praise him for his fairness and equity. We read in the 37th Psalm:
I was young and now I am old, †
but I have never seen the just man forsaken *
nor his children begging for bread.
All the day he is generous and lends *
and his children become a blessing.
This can be spiritualized but the Jews were justifiably suspicious of the overly spiritual. For most of the Old Testament they did not believe in an afterlife. This earth was the only place and if the unjust were rewarded and the just punished then God was either unjust himself or essentially powerless. They decided that he was just and powerful, so humanity needed a second act. This would be a time when God would come in majesty, open the graves of the dead and then separate the good from the bad. Then all would see justice revealed. By the time of Jesus this was the work of the Messiah. Yet note that divine rule would come with him. There would be no interim between the revelation of the Messiah and divine rule
This posed a problem for Christians. They believed that Jesus was the Messiah, yet he did not establish divine rule as they expected it. He spoke about the kingdom and expressed it in very Jewish terms: Shalom, peace, perfect harmony, yet this did not immediately return. Something important began with Jesus but needed to be completed. That the Kingdom is already here but not yet fulfilled is clear Christan doctrine and although Christians like pharisaical Jews believed that eventually there would be what we have come to call heaven not immediately satisfying.
Yet as Luke shows this is plainly Jesus’ intent.
Jesus will return as the Son of Man, a figure of Judgement. Many interpretations of the establishment of divine rule had armies of angels fighting demons and their associates. Here however there is no resistance because it is God himself who is coming in majesty and there is no power to contest with him.
We are told that it will occur but given no hint as to when. This is solely for God to determine. What we are told is that for those who have lived good lives it will be a time of joy and indeed pride: “stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” Those who did not will “die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world,”
Although the gospel contains a clear warning to avoid speculation most generations have had favorite theory as to when he shall return. This is a distraction and Luke has previously shown us what is important in the story of the unjust steward who abused the other slaves in his master’s absence and “When his master returned unexpectedly, he cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful”. (Lk 12:46)
All will be judged and those who are diligent and persistent in following their faith will be rewarded. It is interesting to note that Luke is concerned that people may not be tempted by major sins but simply drift away from the difficulties of daily life. “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise “(Lk 21:34) We should remember as well the parable of the Sower from earlier in the Gospel: “As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.”(Luke 8:14)
Justice is the origin of the kingdom. Its purpose is to reflect that God is just and that he is true to his word. We show our understanding of this when we ourselves act justly. Our parish bible study this fall was on the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah was written by 3 people over 400 years. They had distinctive styles and faced different realties, but they all insisted on justice. No justice, no peace but also no God.
Isaiah was Jesus’ favorite book, and we find it throughout the Gospels. Just think of the sheep being separated from the goats in Matthew’s gospel by finding Jesus in the abandoned and marginalized and treating them with respect and dignity.
Jesus calls us to do the same. To make a good Advent we must look at how we as a community and as individuals have been just and unjust. The goal of justice adopted by the American Bishops is to “create an opportunity for each person to establish a sufficient material foundation upon which to have a dignified, productive, and creative life”.
It is positive, more than just treating people nicely it calls us to act for the good of others, especially those who are in need. It is also communal, for justice to be real it must be the commitment of the entire society.
If we devote ourselves to the quest for justice, we will understand why it is an essential attribute of God and will celebrate a most blessed and productive Advent.