1st Sunday of Advent (Year C) - “Strengthen and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus”
I will make a righteous shoot sprout for David.
To you, O Lord, I lift my soul.
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13-4:2
Lord make your hearts firm at the moment of Christ's coming.
Your liberation is near.
“Until You come again”
1. The exhortation of Saint Paul the apostle in the second reading summarizes well the commitment of the faithful in this time of expectation of the coming of the Lord: “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all […], so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones” (1Thes 3:12-13). These are the words in St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. This letter, in the opinion shared by exegetes, is presented as the first writing of the New Testament dated in the 50’s, that is to say scarcely twenty years after Christ’s departure. The expectation therefore of the Lord’s return was very high among the first Christians, especially among those in Thessalonica, north of Greece, one of the first European cities evangelized by Paul with his companions on his first missionary journey. They were all zealous in the hope of the final salvation that will come with the return of Jesus at the end of the world, as He Himself had promised according to what is also read in today’s Gospel (cf. Lk 21:27).
This strong expectation can still be there today, a call and a teaching on a timeless truth: there will be the end of everything and the Lord Jesus will come. For us Christians of the Third Millennium, the fundamental question is: “Do we still await the coming of the Lord with fervor? Or in general are we still waiting for Him? Do we sometimes still look at Heaven to see Jesus’ arrival on the clouds?” Given that, so far, His second coming has not yet come true, we certainly do not lack patience after two thousand years of waiting! Indeed, perhaps we have reached the point of not thinking about it anymore, dealing only with the things of this world. “In the meantime, he will come!” – someone says – “and when? Only God knows, and so I keep doing my own thing!” Perhaps we lack a little nostalgia for the presence of the Lord Jesus, a state of mind that His first apostles, those sent- missionaries, intensely experienced to the point of it rubbing off onto their listeners. It is time to recover this healthy nostalgia for the Lord that comes from the deep friendship with Him. The point is crucial for the mission. Only the Christian, who always carries Jesus in his heart, burns with the desire to meet Him and thus yearns for His promised coming. And only that Christian feels within the urge to share this sweet friendship with Christ with others. That Christian becomes a missionary of Christ by nature.
2. The question for us today remains the same: “You who call yourself a Christian and are a disciple of Christ, do you yearn for that final redemption that He brings?” For those who do not feel anything like “a dead man walking,” the good Lord also leaves some admonitions in the Gospel with a direct but benevolent tone, followed by a concrete recommendation.
First, the warning: “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). It is a warning to those who do not live in expectation! Beware of hearts drowsy from worldly matters: “from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life.” The first two vices listed are often denounced in biblical teaching (cf. Rom 13:13; Gal 5:21; also Is 24:20 LXX), instead the “anxieties of daily life” are part of the things that, according to the explanation of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke prevent the seeds, fallen among the thorns, from growing fully (cf. Lk 8:14). All three together describe a practical life without God, as in the days of Noah and Lot, when « they were eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building » (cf. Lk 17:26-30).
The exhortation then follows. Jesus indicates the medicine against the lukewarmness of a heart tired of waiting for the things of the Lord and His kingdom: “Be vigilant at all times and pray” (Lk 21:36). The exhortation reflects the words of Jesus on the need to be watchful in Mk 13:33, and that addressed directly to St. Peter the Apostle: “Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test” (Mk 14:38; cf. v. 35). “To watch and pray” go together and are interchangeable: to watch means to pray and vice versa. The distinctive detail in Jesus’ admonition in Lk is the insistence on the time of prayer/vigil: “at all times”, as already seen elsewhere in the Third Gospel (cf. Lk 18:1,7-8). St. Paul, therefore, will recommend to the Thessalonians who were fervently awaiting the Lord’s return: “Pray without ceasing” (1Thes 5:17). And he will also repeat to the Romans: “Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer” (Rom 12:12).
3. Therefore, the constant and unceasing prayer, at all times, becomes a fundamental and indispensable means to be discovered in order to renew the zeal of life, waiting for the Lord’s arrival. This is true for every Christian, baptized, missionary. In this regard, we should remember the memorable words of Pope Francis in the video message on the occasion of the official opening of the General Assembly of the Pontifical Mission Societies (28/5/2018): “Prayer is the first ‘missionary work’ — the first! — that every Christian can and must do. It is also the most effective, even if this cannot be measured.”
With unceasing and ardent prayer for the coming of the Kingdom, every Christian becomes a missionary, even though not everyone has the opportunity to go to a foreign land to proclaim the Gospel (as in the case of St. Therese of Lisieux, patroness of the missions!). With constant and fervent prayer, every missionary fulfills even more the mission of Christ, who Himself constantly prayed in communion with God the Father. The culmination of the prayer vigils is precisely the Eucharistic celebration which, as explained, is missionary by nature, because in it the mission of Christ is mystically fulfilled in the compassionate offering of His body and blood and the mission of the Christians continues, sent by Christ Himself and His Church.
Why then, especially during the period of Advent, do we not make prayers and prayer vigils more often for the missions and the Mission of the Church? Such acts will help us to be vigilant, indeed, fervent in waiting, to strengthen hearts; they will remind us of the duty to walk in holiness towards “that day” of final salvation with the Lord; and they will kindle the enthusiasm of witnessing the dead and risen Christ to all, donec veniat “until He comes.” Amen. Maranathà!
Fr. Dinh Anh Nhue Nguyen, OFM Conv
Pontifical Missionary Union