An Advent Theme

Feast in the House of Levi by Paolo Veronese, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice, 1573

There are two recognised themes in Advent, the first in the earlier part concerned with the Second Coming of the Lord, and the latter part concerned with the First Coming in the Nativity. However, there is another theme in the middle Sundays and in the weekdays in the Lectionary, which links Advent into the everyday life and experience of the Christian. This is the coming of the Christ into the lives of men and women in his ministry, bringing precisely the freedom to captives he proclaims in the Nazareth Synagogue from the scroll of  the prophet Isaiah, as described in Luke chapter 4. It is linked to the First Coming and is an extension of it, but it is distinct, too. The Middle Sundays are devoted to announcing this in-between coming, when we hear John the Baptist proclaiming the Messiah. The coming of Jesus into everyday lives is also theme of the weekday Gospels,  healing the centurion’s servant at Capernaum, (Monday Week 1, Matt 8:5-11); multiplying the loaves (Wednesday week 1, Matt 15:29-37); healing the two blind men (Friday Week 1 Matt 9:27-31), preaching, healing and forgiving sins (Saturday Week 1 Matt: 9:35-10:1,6-8, Monday Week 2 Luke 5:17-26).

The Jesus who comes “eating and drinking, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Friday Week 2 Matt:11:16-19), is the one who called Levi and who ate at his house, as in this scene by Paolo Veronese. Originally, the commission was for a Last Supper for the refectory of the Dominicans of SS Giovanni e Paolo to replace one by Titian destroyed by fire in 1571. However, Veronese’s work was considered to have far too many figures for such a scene by the Holy Office of the time, so the title was changed to the Feast in the House of Levi. The decorative splendour is a fitting expression of the joy of Christ’s coming into the lives of those who have never experienced him before, one which each person may have in season and out of it, also identified by St Bernard in his ‘5th Sermon on Advent’ as the ‘intermediary coming’ of ‘rest and consolation’

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