By John Foley, SJ
The Church seems to have a liturgical strategy in Advent's Sunday readings. Each week, the First Reading is positive, a promise of good, the "carrot." Then, the Gospel and the Second Reading seem to whack us with the "stick."*
The First Reading this Sunday reminds us of the promise God made to his people: rightness and justice will come to the earth. Security. The day of the Lord will arrive, though long delayed. Peace in our day. What a great promise at such a time as ours. Too good to be true? Just pious thought? Read the First Reading now, and ask yourself such questions. Spend time with them. Pray to God for help. The Responsorial Psalm will help. It asks God to make known his ways to us, to guide us and to teach us.
The Second Reading urges us to put God's promise of peace into action, even if we are only starting to grasp what it means. Love others and be loved!
Let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy. It talks as if we were tempted to such things. Yet, why did Paul warn people if there were no reason? Don't you and I need to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ" as this reading urges?
[This] is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. The Gospel is the "stick" that tries to help us wake up, especially if the above has not helped. Jesus says, Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left.
Therefore, stay awake!
Go ahead and spend time on this. Are you ready for the warning? Let yourself imagine what this planet might be like if no one paid attention, except to their own wants. Picture it, and don't worry about being exact. Experience it. Will such a shakeup happen literally? Maybe much worse is to come, judging from our world.
Do you live without fear of terrorist acts, of proliferating nuclear weapons, of the crash of an entire world economy, of the greed that fills so many hearts to overflowing in your city, in your state, your world?
If you can say, "I am afraid of these," then you can go back to the Responsorial Psalm and pray heartily. Beg that Christ be given birth in your soul and in so many others in this world that need it so badly.
* Why celebrate Advent?
"I don't know why, it always just comes along"; or, "I don't know, no one ever told me why." Or especially, "if Christ has already been born, what is this Advent 'waiting' for? Have we forgotten what happened so many centuries ago and need to remind ourselves?"
Strangely, that is part of the answer. His birth is into our hearts every year, not just once, thousands of years ago.