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November 27 2016 (A) First Sunday of Advent (A)

A. The bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. Reflection & Dialogue: Advent Joy, Advent Vision         

The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Isaiah 2:1-4). The Lord gathers all nations together into the eternal peace of God’s kingdom. This prophetic gem is found also in the book of the prophet Micah 4:1-4. The relationship between the two texts has received no satisfactory explanation: whether one is dependent on the other, or whether both depend on an independent prophecy. The passage in Isaiah is introduced as part of a collection of prophecies concerning Judah and Jerusalem. This prophecy is unique in the book of Isaiah, and indeed in the entire Old Testament, although there are Psalms of the kingship of the Lord of a universalistic nature. War was a fact of everyday life in Israel’s history, and the nations are represented as hostile to Israel. This vision goes beyond any of Isaiah’s prophecies. It is a vision of a future of undefined date. It was usual in the Middle East to represent the dwelling-place of chief gods as on high mountains. In this tradition, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, dwelling-place of the Lord on earth, is represented poetically as in the future being higher than any of these. At best, in the Old Testament the nations are represented as bringing gifts to Jerusalem, as tokens of Jewish superiority. Here they are seen as coming to learn the revealed will of God, his teaching on how to govern one’s life. The divine teaching (the Law) and the revealed will of God through oracles, are represented as going out from Jerusalem/Zion. The prophetic vision, and the divine will, are represented as having the desired effect among the nations of the world who change the instruments of war (swords, spears) into instruments of peaceful ways (ploughshares, sickles), with no more training for war. This is the vision of the light of God that Israel, Judah and Jerusalem, are called to walk in.

            The vision has had significant effect, both religiously and politically. Jesus has willed that the good news spread from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (see Acts 1:8). Isaiah’s vision of universal peace continues to inspire political leaders. From many examples we may note one: In the gardens of the United Nations New York there is a bronze statue (by Egeniy Vuchetich) with the figure of a man holding a hammer in one hand, and in the other a sword which he is making into a ploughshare, presented to the United Nations in 1959 by the Soviet Union. The same vision continues to inspire all modern efforts to ban the making of weapons of destruction and to seek peace.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 121[122]). I rejoiced when I heard them say: Let us go to God’s house”.

Second Reading (Romans 13:11-14). Our salvation is near. It is worth recalling that the opening words “You know” (literally “And knowing that”) links this reading with Paul’s exhortation immediately preceding on aspects of Christian life (Romans chapter 12): spiritual worship, humility and charity, charity to everyone, including enemies, submission to civil authority, love and law, love as the fulfilment of law. It is all very much about Christian living on this earth. In the continuation of his exhortation in this reading Paul speaks of “the time”, put in some lectionaries between inverted commas, indicating that the word has a special meaning. The “time” (in Greek kairos) in question is the eschatological era of the Last Days, introduced by Christ’s death and resurrection and coextensive with the age of the Church on earth. Paul represents the life (of pagan society) lived and experienced by Christians before their baptism as night, and their new life as light, day. Night in pagan society represented a time for carousing. To live in the day means to shun practices proper to such nights, such as those listed at the end of the reading. In a sense Christian living is a warfare, and Paul here (as in others of his letters) calls on believers to arm themselves. Their armour in this fight will be union with Christ. In other letters he spells out the armour as faith, hope and charity.

The Gospel (Matthew 24:37-44). Stay awake so that you may be ready. In the verse immediately preceding this passage, Jesus stated that no one, but the Father alone, knows the day or hour of the end. The present text is a call to be prepared for the end, whenever it comes, indicating by examples from the Bible and everyday life that it can come suddenly. Jesus illustrates this by an example drawn from his own time, leading to a renewed call for watchfulness.

B. Reflection & Dialogue: Advent Joy, Advent Vision

For “Reflection and Dialogue” see Martin McNamara, MSC, Sunday Readings with Matthew: Interpretation and Reflections (Veritas, 2016).