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There are very clearly two responses to the signs that precede the coming of the Son of Man on the cloud. One response is to be so frightened and paralyzed by fear that one faints because judgement is near at hand. The other response is to stand up and raise one’s head, because redemption is near at hand.
Why are there two responses? What factors determine how people will respond? The answer to these questions is contained in the texts that have been chosen for this first Sunday in Advent.
No matter how invincible we may think we are, and no matter how many strides we may take in the fields of science and technology, death is a certainty. Our life here on earth is limited and temporary. There is no doubt that we will all pass from this world some day. Since this is the case, some respond by adopting the philosophy of the Epicureans or the Cārvākas in which the core theme is “Eat, drink and make merry for tomorrow you die”. This philosophy is based on the belief that pleasure is the sole good. The Epicureans and the Cārvākas live lives centered on themselves and on their wants alone and will not care less about the needs of others. It is logical then, that when these are faced with the prospect of death, they will be frightened.
There are, on the other hand, those who will walk the way Jesus has shown. They, too, know that life on earth is temporary and passing and hence, they will do everything in their power to make the lives of others on earth a little more meaningful. They will focus, not on themselves but, on others and in doing so, make even this passing world a heaven on earth. These will be able to hold their heads high and be unafraid when the Son of Man does come. However, since they are prepared all the time, they will neither focus too much on that day when he will come nor will they speculate about when that day will arrive. All that matters to them will be to live fully and completely in the present.
The first reading of today, from the prophet Jeremiah, makes this point precisely. While earlier, Jeremiah had named the king whom God would send as “The Lord is our righteousness”, here, it is the city in which God’s people dwell that is called by this name. This is because the king, himself, will show the way by living a righteousness life and he will challenge others who dwell in his city to do the same. Those who dwell in this city must ensure that they live up to its name. This they will do by making certain that justice, honesty, and integrity prevail among them.
The prophecy of Jeremiah was fulfilled in its entirety only in the coming of Jesus, who is the incarnation of justice. It was through his words and actions that he brought justice and righteousness to everyone whom he encountered. Even as he did so, he challenged all who came in contact with him to live the kind of life that he lived and to reflect that kind of life in every action and word. He was able to convince his disciples that this way was the only way to live. He was also able to convert a Saul into a Paul.
It is the same converted Paul who explains to the Thessalonians, in the first reading of today, that their community must be one in which love is shown in action. He himself learnt this from the crucified and risen Christ and he has taught it as he learned it. They must not become complacent or give in to mediocrity. They must keep striving to reach higher and higher in the practice of unconditional love.
Many of us live in the future rather than in the present. We want to know what will happen tomorrow and, in the process, do not live fully today. This obsession with the future is because we are frightened. We are frightened of what the future holds for us. We are frightened of whether we will be able to cope with what the future brings. We are frightened of whether the future will be better than or worse than our present. The readings of today are calling for exactly the opposite of this way of living. The readings of today call for a total living in the present and doing what we have to do in the now, without useless worry about what the morrow may bring. This is what it means to be ready at all times.
However, we will only be able to have such confidence to continue doing what we are doing if we give up the negative things that we might be doing and the negative attitudes that we might carry. We need to substitute the negative with everything that enhances, that builds up and that is positive. Being good and doing good are not to be looked upon as burdens. They are to be seen as something that comes naturally to the Christian who, because of Christ’s life, mission, death, and resurrection, has moved from darkness to light and from fear to love. We must show, through this kind of positive and fearless living, that we are, indeed, children of the light. We must show that we have, as inspiration, the person and message of Christ.
If we dare to live in this manner, then the prophecy of Jeremiah, which was fulfilled in the coming of Jesus 2000 years ago, will become a reality again today. We will become that city of righteousness to which everyone will look and learn the Lord’s ways. Those who look will learn that to live in the future is futile. They will learn that to be obsessed with what is not yet, is to fail to appreciate fully the present moment. They will realize that it is better to be positive than negative, better to enhance and build up rather than pull down and destroy, and better to live fully and completely rather than die without ever having lived.