The main character in today’s Gospel is John the Baptist, the one who prepared the way for Jesus and who eventually baptized him (Matt 3:13-17). He challenges the people of Israel to make a complete change in their lives because the Kingdom of Heaven is near (Matt 3:2). “Kingdom of God” expresses a condition of total submission to God, allowing God to be the sole master in our lives and to control everything. Just as any good kind or leader might do, God seeks to promote our life and well-being but He will only succeed if we collaborate with him and allow our lives to be God centered. We have to move away from self-centeredness which expresses itself in pride, hunger for possessions, power, and prestige, to an attitude of submission to God in total humility and concern for the others, needs like Jesus (Ph 2:5-11). In what areas of our lives do we need to turn back to God? John the Baptist invites us to live a new life by bearing fruit (Matt 3:10; 7:19) that is visible. Advent is a good time to discover together what fruit we are called to bear.
This first Sunday of Advent begins a new year in the Church. This year we follow the readings of Matthew, and this first Sunday the attention is not on the first coming of Jesus, as is the central theme of Advent, but rather on his Second Coming at the end of time. As people await Jesus’ return, the community of disciples must always be prepared because no one knows the time (Matt 24:36,42). It is in ordinary events that our Savior comes to us. In a generation that did not care about God, Noah is singled out as one who found favor in his eyes. Jesus uses this story in the final discourse about the end-time to compare his time with that of Noah. In Noah’s time nobody expected a flood to destroy the world and so people refused to change how they lived. We are invited to accept the Messiah as he comes to us, not in any extraordinary way but rather in the very ordinary things. Jesus does not say when the time will be because nobody knows, except God the Father (Matt 24:36). Since nobody knows when and how the end is going to be we must always be prepared. This is the advice Jesus gives his disciples. Jesus comes to us not only at the end of the world but every day, in every circumstance of our lives. We expect God to manifest himself in spectacular ways like miracles and other extra ordinary events. But this is not the way Jesus comes to us. He invites us to see him in the people and the events of each day: in our family and in our friends, in the poor and the sick.
The last Gospel of the year shows who Jesus really is. He is King, but a King who is not understood and therefore, condemned and crucified. Jesus shows the thief his kingly greatness as he forgives his sins and invites him into his Kingdom. What is going on in the hearts of the people watching silently their dying king? They are struck dumb by the cruelty of the execution and their own powerlessness to do anything. But there is already a transformation of their minds and heart. Our King on the cross is one who struggled against all forms of oppression to bring about Gods reign in a non-violent way and was ready to risk his life. He invites us from the cross to continue his struggle: not to run away from suffering, to be compassionate to our suffering brothers and sisters and to spend our lives to build a different human community built on justice and reconciliation. What Jesus did throughout his life and at the moment of dying is what we, his disciples, his community, are called to continue doing till the end of time. “In Christ, God was reconciling the world with himself….and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us (2 Cor 5:18).
Today’s Gospel is a selection from the teachings of Jesus in the Temple (Luke 19:47-21:38) about the destruction of the Temple. The destruction of the Temple is for Jesus, a sign that the “end of time” has arrived, although this end of time cannot be fixed into a specific date. The people of Israel did not have a temple right from the beginning. In the desert they had only a tent, a tabernacle. It contained the Ark of the Covenant with the two tablets of the commandments and the manna. It was David’s son Solomon, who finally built the temple in Jerusalem on top of a hill called Moriah. According to tradition, this was the mountain where Abraham went to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22). The Temple was at the heart of Judaism as the place of the presence of God among his people. Some people however began to think of the temple no longer as a place for meeting God and renewing their covenant with him. They looked at the temple as a kind of magic guarantee that God was obliged to protect Israel even if they ignored and broke the terms of the covenant. We know that the real dwelling place of God is in our heart. “We are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor 6:16). That temple cannot be destroyed by others as long as God lives there. We do not cling to the institution of the church; instead, we cling to Christ’s mission of reconciliation in the world.