First Sunday of Advent
Today’s readings are odd choices for the first day of a new calendar. The First Sunday of Advent is the start of our liturgical year–a time for new beginnings. The readings today wind up focusing on endings. Things start out nicely enough, with Jeremiah’s speaking of God’s promises. Then Paul starts to exhort the Thessalonians to get ready for things to come, and finally Jesus speaks of what will happen at the Last Judgment, with everything being upturned and destroyed. Newness is usually about bringing hope and optimism, but Jesus is talking about bringing dismay and confusion. Not exactly the good first impression you want to make at the start of a new year.
But the new beginnings God promises don’t come from nowhere. As the song “Closing Time” put it, “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” We can’t see the new things God is promising without also seeing how the old things will be swept away. And as the old is swept away, at first we will only see the destruction and tribulation Jesus speaks of in the gospel. When we see all this, we also realize that we could get swept away with the old. If we want “to stand before the Son of Man” after all is said and done, we need to be as new as everything else that remains at the Second Coming.
During Advent, we are given plenty of opportunities to think about own renewal. Many of the daily readings focus our attention on the promises of newness that God makes to us, while the readings for the Sundays can naturally lead us to thinking over the Four Last Things. As we see the extravagant promises of the world to come, we can think over whether we are truly looking forward to these promises, or whether we are really more at home with things as they are. In Advent, we have a chance to put an end to the old for the sake of new beginnings.