This Sunday we begin a new liturgical year with the First Sunday of Advent. The Advent Season is a four week preparation for Christmas but not in the usual sense. Advent is a time to reflect with John in the desert and to think about the various advents or comings of Jesus into our lives and our world. Jesus came to us in the historical incarnation that we will celebrate at Christmas. He will come to us as the returning glorious King of Kings at the end of time. But perhaps most visibly He comes to us quietly every day in the interactions we have with each other. Every expression of love and care that passes between two people has Jesus in the middle of it. This is the most common and maybe the most miraculous of the advents of Jesus. Each day He comes to us in and through each other.
First Reading: Isaiah 2:1-5
1 This is what Isaiah, son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
2 In days to come,
The mountain of the LORD’S house
shall be established as the highest mountain
and raised above the hills.
All nations shall stream toward it;
3 many peoples shall come and say:
“Come, let us climb the LORD’S mountain,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
That he may instruct us in his ways,
and we may walk in his paths.”
For from Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4 He shall judge between the nations,
and impose terms on many peoples.
They shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
One nation shall not raise the sword against another,
nor shall they train for war again.
5 O house of Jacob, come,
let us walk in the light of the LORD!
NOTES on First Reading:
* 2:1 This verse is an editorial addition introducing Isaiah 2-5 which was added by a redactor (editor) sometime after the original recording of the statements themselves.
* 2:2-4 This prophecy presents an idealized view of the Messianic destiny which ensures Judah’s later restoration. While the prophets generally see the Lord’s house as the seat of authority and the source of clear and certain doctrine in the Messianic kingdom, they express the vision in different ways. Isaiah’s imagery is among the most familiar. The rule of the Kingdom is usually depicted as being willingly accepted by all and being maintained by spiritual power and sanctions. The result of the world’s acceptance of the Messianic Kingdom is presented as universal peace.
While essentially the same passage is found in Micah 4:1-3, most scholars think that it was written by Isaiah although this is far from certain. These same themes are found in the “Zion Psalms” (Psalms 46;48;76;87;34:62) as well as some other locations in the Old Testament and express a faith and hope that predated Isaiah.
* 2:3 Here Zion and Jerusalem are types of or symbols for the earthly center of the Messianic kingdom.
* 2:5 This exhortation which acts as a conclusion to the passage was probably added later by an editor. It differs markedly from the conclusion in Micah 4:4 but it resembles Micah 4:5.
Second Reading: Romans 13:11-14
11 And do this because you know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; 12 the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness (and) put on the armor of light; 13 let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.
NOTES on Second Reading:
* 13:11-14 These verses provide the motivation for the love to which the readers have been encouraged in the last three verses
* 13:11 Light and darkness are often used in early Christian writing to express the contrast between life without Jesus and life with Jesus, the source of light.
The word for “time”, kairos, which is used here means a definite or limited portion of time and implies suitability. It came to mean time in a Christian context of the end-time (eschaton) – a time to manifest the kingdom of God.
* 13:12 Christians can not afford to remain in the unprotected state of scantily clothed sleepers when the time calls for the armor of light which is described in 1 Thes 5:8 as faith, love, and hope. See also Eph 6:15-17.
* 13:13 The behavior described in Romans 1:29-30 is now to be reversed. Nonchristian moralists of the time were fond of making references to people who could not wait for nightfall to do their carousing. Paul makes use of that common symbolism to say that Christians who claim to be people of the new day which will dawn with the return of Christ will concentrate on conduct that is in keeping with their avowed interest in the Lord’s return rather than plan for nighttime behavior.
* 3:14 Here Paul shifts the image slightly to say that Christ Himself is to be the clothing or the armor of the Christian. Through Baptism the believer has already “put on Christ” (Gal 3:27) but the identification of the Christian with Christ must bear fruit in one’s life as the Christian draws more and more away from sin and becomes more and more aware of his/her Christian identity.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 24: 37-44
37 For as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 In (those) days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. 39 They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be (also) at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. 42 Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. 43 Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. 44 So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.
NOTES on Gospel Reading:
* 24:37-39 The Old Testament account of the flood lays emphasis on the wickedness of the people while what is central for Matthew is the unexpected coming of the flood upon those who were unprepared for it. See a parallel text in Luke 17:26-27. The story of Noah is related in Genesis beginning with Gen 6:11-13.
* 24:37 The expression, “Son of Man,” was Jesus’ favorite method of referring to Himself. It was in common usage as a term meaning simply a man but it also was a mysterious character in the Book of Daniel 7:13. This little understood figure was a symbol for the coming Messianic King and it was to this image that Jesus refers in using this term. Daniel 7:13-14 reads: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a Son of Man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” The Church began to apply this passage to Jesus very soon after the resurrection.
* 24:40-41 Matthew continues his pattern of twinning parables of men and women. The emphasis is on the surprise nature of the coming end.
While the exact meanings are not certain the former expression probably means taken into the kingdom while the latter one means left for destruction. People in the same situation will be dealt with in opposite ways. In this context, the discrimination between them will be based on their readiness for the coming of the Son of Man. The difference between the two can not be discerned by the observer. Only God knows.
* 24:42-44 The theme of vigilance and readiness is continued with the bold comparison of the Son of Man to a thief who comes to break into a house. A parallel is found in Luke 12:39-40.
* 24:42 Watchfulness or alertness is the point of this section. It means eschatological alertness to the will of God.
* 24:44 This verse uses the term, “be ready,” to express the conclusion of the section. It adds to the terminology of vigilance. Matthew places a context of alertness and preparation around the end time rather than surrounding it with speculation and fear by placing this section immediately following the “Little Apocalypse” (24:1-36) where Jesus describes the end of the world. This too should be our response to the end. Rather than fear or wild speculation we should spend the time we have in preparation and vigilance.
Scripture text: New American Bible with revised New Testament copyright © 1986,1970, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.
Vince Del Greco
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (1990) (Eds. Brown, Fitzmyer & Murphy)