The End or the Beginning

by Susanna Mak
First Sunday of Advent

Jeremiah 33:14-16

1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2

Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

The typical readings during Advent are often filled with terrifying images of “fire and brimstones” and various scenarios about how the world will end. If we only interpret these passages literally, then, no doubt our hearts will be consumed by confusion and fear. However, these readings are a double-edged sword that, on the one hand, jolts us out of complacency through terrifying and severe warnings; on the other, leads us into an inward journey of self-examination and, in the process, remembering God’s faithfulness. Hidden in these catastrophic scenes are encouragement and opportunities that lead us to a genuine transformation in Christ. Therefore, Advent is not solely about the end but also the beginning of something amazing and unimaginable.

This week’s 1st and 2nd Readings, Jeremiah’s prophetic words and Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians offer advice that anchors us in hope and strength amidst all the disasters and despair portrayed by Luke. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus brings his listeners’ attention to the “signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars” and warns them that they will be “confused” and “faint from fear [...] for the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Lk 21:25-26). Contrary to these terrifying occurrences, Paul blesses the Thessalonians, and all of us, that they (and we) be “abound in love for one another and for all” (1 Th 3:12). The Psalmist reminds us that only God is our “salvation” and that his paths are “steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ps 25:5, 10). Both the Psalmist and Paul affirm God’s faithfulness and that God’s love for us surpasses all fear and confusion caused by earthly disasters, for in times of trials, God will “strengthen [our] hearts in holiness” (1Th 3:13). When our hearts are “weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life”, we must turn to God and implore, “Make me to know your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths” (Ps 25:4).

On the last day, God will fulfill His promise “made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah”, that the Son of Man will come to “execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jer 33:14-15). Jesus teaches us that since we do not know when that day may arrive, we must “be alert at all times” and pray for strength to make the right choices (Lk 21:36). Paul explains that we must be “blameless” before God and live in ways that are pleasing to God (1 Th 3:13).

Advent prompts us to remember the love and faithfulness of God on the one hand, and challenges us how we “ought to live and to please God” on the other (1 Th 4:1). In other words, it invites each one of us to walk the extra miles down the path of genuine transformation in Christ. All the teachings and warnings about end times and the coming of the Son of Man are not solely about the end; they also teach us how to live: reflectively, intentionally, prayerfully, faithfully, and lovingly.

During Advent, may we have the strength to face our inner darkness; may we have the courage to approach God, shameless and with hearts wide open. May God bless us all during Advent as we prepare for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.