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 December 3 2017 (B) First Sunday of Advent

  1. The bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
  2. Reflection & Dialogue: Keep vigil. Waiting for God.
  3. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings).
  4. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Isaiah 63:16-17; 64:1, 3-8). Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down. The title to this reading given above conveys the substance of today’s passage and of the spirit of Advent itself. The inspired author of the psalm from which this reading is taken is imploring God to tear the heavens apart and to come to the aid of his people in their distress. The holy city of Jerusalem has been destroyed, and the Temple, once God’s dwelling place, is in ruins. The spirit of Advent can be clearly perceived in this psalm and this reading, and some of it phrases will be known by heart by many, as they recur in the beautiful Advent hymn Rorate caeli. The contents of the psalm and this reading will speak directly to every one this Advent and during every Advent, to every generation and every age. For this very reason I believe it is indicated that we go back in time and situate this reading in its original context in the Book of Isaiah and in its original historical setting. The five non-continuous verses in this reading in the Book of Isaiah are part of a long psalm (Isaiah 63:7-64:12), which in turn is related to Psalms 44(43) and 74(73). It is a sort of communal lament, imploring God, their Father, to come to the aid of his people once again. The psalm reminds God of the great deeds he has done for them in the past, while confessing their own infidelities and sins. It is clear that the sentiments expressed in the psalm indicate that we are in the period after the destruction of the city and Temple by the Babylonian armies in 586. The psalm may have been composed soon after that event, or between the years 538 and 522, when permission was granted to the Jews to return to their homeland, but as yet little or nothing had been done concerning Jerusalem or the Temple. The sentiments expressed in the passage are tremendous. The Lord God is addressed as Father and Redeemer; the people are the tribes of his inheritance. They had for long been rebels against him, and are now as withered leaves, being blown away by the wind. They are unclean and their integrity is as filthy clothing. He is their Father, and in their misery they entreat him: “Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down”. They are weak; he is omnipotent. They are the clay, he is the potter. They are all the work of his hand – implying that he as potter can create a new age for them.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 79[80]). God of hosts, bring us back; let your face us and we shall be saved.

Second Reading (1 Corinthians 1:3-9). We are waiting for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. At the beginning of his letter to the Corinthians, a community he had founded a short time previously – five years or so – Paul thanks God for the abundant graces he had bestowed on that church. He stresses that the source of all their gifts is God, not themselves. It appears that the Corinthian community founded by him, and to which he now writes, was well grounded in a knowledge of the faith, with the crucified Christ at its centre. They were enriched in their teachers and preachers, in speech and in knowledge of every kind, knowledge of the Christian message, and they were bearing a strong witness to Christ. For Paul, these gifts of the Spirit attached the believers to Christ, through a truly Christian life. It is to be supposed that the Corinthian community, as Paul himself in his earlier years, were expecting Christ to return in the not too distant future. In any case they would call on him to come in the Eucharistic acclamation Marana tha¸ “Come Lord Jesus”. Paul says that they were waiting for this, for the Lord Jesus to be revealed. The best preparation to be in readiness for this coming, for meeting the Lord Jesus, would be living a Christian life from the gifts of the Spirit, without blame. They can be confident of continuing in God’s grace since the God who has called them to become Christians has united them with Christ, and God is faithful to his calling and promises. Paul ends, as he had begun, by stressing the divine initiative in the work of salvation. All the gifts Paul had mentioned are from God, from the God who will see that Christ’s followers are faithful to the end.

Gospel (Mark 13:33-37). Stay awake, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming. In the verse immediately preceding this passage Jesus told his disciples that about the day or hour of the end, or the return of the Son of Man, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. And then immediately after this he gives this warning to his disciples: Beware, be on your guard, because you never know when the time will come, when the master will return. It is presumed that it will be during the night, and Mark gives us the four Roman watches of the nighttime: evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn. Christ was addressing his disciples, but Mark makes it clear that his words hold for everyone: “What I say to you, I say to all: Stay awake”.

Reflection and Dialogue with Questions of the Day. Keep vigil. Waiting for God.

Reflection.Keep Vigil. We do not know when we are to meet the Lord. In the early Church, at least for some time, the return of the Lord was keenly awaited, even though no one knew exactly when that would happen. That expectation of an imminent return gradually faded away, but the admonition to be ready to meet the Lord at one’s death always holds true. The readiness for such an occurrence is the living of a genuine Christian life, and asking divine forgiveness of one’s sins. Advent is a period in which we are called to reflect on the reality of sin, both small and great.

Dialogue with Questions of the Day. Waiting for God.

Samuel Beckett wrote the well-known play “Waiting for Godot”. What Becket had in mind by this title has for long been discussed. In a sense part of Christian belief is waiting for God, and Advent presents an ideal opportunity to reflect on it. Year after year, Advent has been a season of preparation for the “coming” of Jesus at Christmas. In fact the Latin word adventus behind the name of the season means “coming”. And during this period we try to reflect on Christ’s first coming and his second coming at the end of time. Waiting for the coming of God is an integral part of both the Old and the New Testaments, an intervention by God to punish wrongdoing and establish truth and justice in keeping with his own holiness and promises.

The first real appeal to God in the Bible to intervene for this purpose is by the prophet Habakkuk, about the year 609 B.C. The fierce armies of Babylon were advancing and wreaking havoc on the innocent people of Palestine, while God seemed to stand aloof and inactive. The prophet tells us that he stood on his prophetic watch-tower and made formal complaint to God on this matter. The Lord answered him in a solemn oracle as follows: “Write the vision down; inscribe it on writing tablets to be easily read. For the vision is for its appointed time; it hastens towards its end and will not lie. Although it may take some time, wait for it, for come it certainly will before too long. You see, anyone whose heart is not upright will succumb, but the upright will live through faithfulness”. This would hold for the divine plan in general and for God’s promises. They may be slow in being fulfilled, but God expects believers to accept his plan. Those who are not in agreement with this, not upright, will fall, while the upright are saved through their faithfulness, their perseverance, their patience, while waiting for God’s plan to become real.

It is in this spirit that we should wait for God, for the fulfilment of his promises and of the prophecies. Without this spirit, a person is lost. Of course, many of the prophecies made by the prophets have been fulfilled, and the magnificent vision of a glorious future of Second Isaiah gave courage to the dispirited exiles, even though they were not to be literally fulfilled. In a sense they were fulfilled in the New Testament. How the future and the end of history were to come about was the Father’s secret, a secret not known to Jesus or Paul, a fact which did not in any way impede their preaching of the good news. Some of Jesus’ words could lead one to believe that his own return and the end were to come during the lifetime of his listeners, a belief that was a cause of scandal for some early Christians. The author of the Second Letter of Peter reminds those Christians to reflect on the mercy and patience of God, and that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like one day.

As we Christians wait for God, it is not for some unknown God, but for the unseen God who has revealed himself and who, with his Son and the Holy Spirit, is with us always to end of time. For us, waiting for God is waiting for the fulfilment of his promises, and for the coming of his kingdom, an eternal and universal kingdom: a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace, as the preface for the Feast of Christ the King expresses it.