Studying God’s Word

Jeremiah 33:14-16
1 Thessalonians 3:12—4:2
Luke 21:25-28, 34-36 [3C]
The church year opens with Jesus’ discussion of the end times. As Catholics begin the season of Advent and look to the upcoming celebration of the birth of Jesus, the Scripture readings for the First Sunday of Advent turn our attention to the second coming of Christ when Jesus will return on judgment day as the glorified Son of Man.
The Gospel reading is an excerpt from Luke 21, Jesus’ eschatological (eschaton meaning, “end-time”) discourse. Each of the synoptic Gospel writers preserves Jesus’ teachings about events associated with the end of time (compare Lk 21 with Mk 13 and Mt 24). The destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the presence of false prophets, and the persecution of believers were all foretold by Jesus as preludes to his return. In the first half of today’s reading, we hear some details about his Parousia or “second coming” (in Greek, parousia translates as “a coming” or “a presence”). Jesus forewarned his followers that sometime after his death and resurrection, he would return again to usher in the end of time. Many unbelievers will “die of fright” as they bear witness to “what is coming upon the world.” But Jesus taught his followers that in the end times, they should “stand erect and raise your heads.” For those who believe in him as the Christ and the Son of Man, judgment day is the day of their “redemption.”  
In the second half of today’s Gospel reading, Jesus issues a stern warning to his followers: “be vigilant at all times.” Jesus’ concern that over time followers would develop “drowsy” hearts or simply be consumed by the “anxieties of daily life” and consequently be caught off guard at the second coming was almost certainly a reality for many of the community members to whom Luke was writing around AD 90. Christians were already a generation or two removed from the death and resurrection of Jesus. Sustaining the zeal and firm conviction of the imminent return of Christ likely faded over time. Luke and his community probably faced the same challenges many contemporary Christians face: the struggle keep the faith in the forefront of our minds as we go about the daily routines of work and family life.
Six hundred years before the birth of Christ, the prophet Jeremiah was active in the southern kingdom of Judah, preparing the Israelites for the impending invasion of the Babylonian Empire. Jeremiah carried the heavy burden of being the prophet during Israel’s final expulsion from the Promised Land. He offered many prophecies—some of hope, others of doom—in an effort to motivate Israel to turn from their idolatrous ways and return to their covenantal relationship with God. Today’s first reading is a prophecy of hope from Jeremiah. He reveals to the Israelites that God will remain faithful to his covenantal pledge made to King David four hundred years earlier in 1000 BC (see 2 Sm 7:11-16): “I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah.” Jeremiah prophesied that in the aftermath of the Babylonian release from captivity, Jerusalem would see, once again, a time of safety and security where divine righteous and justice would be experienced by all.  Many of the earliest believers in Christ saw in the birth of Jesus the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy.
The second reading is taken from Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. The reading opens with one of Paul’s prayers for the Christian congregation in city of Thessalonica. Paul prayed for an abundance of love among fellow believers in anticipation of the return of Christ. The sense of “advent” was very real to even the earliest of the Christian communities.
Dr. Daniel J. Scholz