Advent: Beginning with the End
Updated: Nov 28, 2021
It is intriguing for many people that each Advent (on which we begin a new liturgical year), the scripture readings for Mass almost always are apocalyptic. We begin something new by talking about the end. The Church’s wisdom in prescribing these apocalyptic readings is primarily theological. However, let me begin with a very practical human experience. Isn’t it true, that if we are driving to a new destination, the first thing we figure out is where we are going? If we do not have the destination and the directions, how can we begin the journey? We will be directionless if we begin a journey without the destination. In other words, our common experience is that we always begin a new journey with the end in sight.
Advent and the new liturgical year begin with apocalyptic scripture readings because they reminds us of our final destination. Particularly because live in a culture that distorts the spirit of Advent, it becomes critically important that at the beginning of Advent and a new liturgical year, we keep life’s final destination firmly in mind.
In every religion, the final destination of human life is eternal life. Different religions have different names for the same reality. Hindus call it ‘moksha,’ Buddhists call it ‘nirvana,’ in Hebrew salvation is called ‘yeshua,’ and the destination of Islam is ‘Jannah’ or Paradise. For Christians, the term is redemption. In the gospel reading for this first Sunday of Advent, Jesus himself reminds us very emphatically, “But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand” (Lk 21:28).
What do we mean by redemption? Redemption, for us Christians, means to freely accept the life won for us by Christ – a life free from the power of sin, darkness, and death, a life lived in the immense love of God and neighbor, and a life that leads to a total union with the Triune God. As we journey toward redemption, what is true of our journeys in practical life is also true of our Christian journey. Our journey toward redemption starts at the very beginning – at baptism. It is in baptism that we die to sin and rise to new life in Christ. In every sense of the term, then, even though our final redemption and our ultimate union with Christ is accomplished when we depart from this earth, the journey has already begun. Thus, today as we begin Advent and a new liturgical year, we are reminded of the beginning and the final destination of our journey toward redemption.
Let us begin Advent and a new liturgical year, then, reminding ourselves of our final destination and the directions we need to get there.
Every journey towards a destination comes with directions. These days, the directions are irritatingly specific. With your GPS on, have you even missed a turn or an exit? Siri is unforgiving. It makes sure you hear about it. It persists until you are back on the right track. And honestly as irritating Siri is, the best thing we can do is the follow the directions.
Today’s second reading gives us the directions to reach our destination.
- Abound in love for one another and for all (1Thes 3:12). I love the phrase, “Abound in love!” It says more than just “love one another” or “love your enemies.” It says that we should overflow with love. It says that there should an abundance of love. It further says, “increase and abound in love for one another and for all.” We are invited to love not just the people of our kind, our country, or our religion. At Christmas, Christ embraced all the world. This Advent, we too must do the same. Let us abound in love for one another and for all.
- Be blameless in holiness before our God (1 Thes 3:13). If there is one thing we know about God, it is that God is holy. In the Old Testament, holiness lay in fulfilling the laws and commandments. Jesus takes us further. First, as he says in today’s gospel reading, “Be vigilant at all times and pray” (Lk 21:36). This Advent, let us make prayer integral to our daily living. Then, let our prayer lead us to "abound in love" - radical love of God and genuine love of neighbor. The only way to be blameless before our God is prayer and abounding love.
- Conduct yourselves to please God (1 Thes 4:1). How can we conduct ourselves to please God? The answer is Jesus. Jesus’ life is a model for us. In all things we need to ask ourselves only three questions. How would Jesus THINK? How would Jesus TALK? How would Jesus ACT? If we think, talk, and act like Jesus all of Advent, something miraculous will happen. We will not just be celebrating the birth of Jesus, but rather, Jesus will be born anew through us. It will truly be Christmas.
“Beginning with the End”
When we think of redemption, we imagine that it lies somewhere in an unknown and uncertain future. However, let me return to a thought I mentioned earlier. We begin our journey toward our final redemption at baptism. In baptism, we are already redeemed. In other words, our redemption need not lie in some distant future. In reality, we are invited to live our redemption in the here and now. We are not like children who behave well surprisingly well from Thanksgiving until Christmas so that they do not miss out Santa’s bonanza! No! We are mature Christians who “abound in love for one another,” “be blameless in holiness” and “conduct ourselves to please God,” not because we want to be redeemed but precisely because we are redeemed!
We can take Jesus’ “Your redemption is at hand,” literally. Christian life is a constant interplay of beginnings and ends, of life and death, living in Christ and dying to sin. Advent and the new liturgical year begin with apocalyptic scripture readings because the Church wants to invite us to live redeemed lives. Let us try it this Advent. Instead of focusing on the superficialities of “cultural Christmas," let us abound in love, live in holiness, and conduct ourselves to please God. Let us live in the here and now what we anticipate in heaven at the end of our lives. Yes, we begin Advent with the end!
- Fr. Satish Joseph