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 token 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 (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

In a reflection for the first Sunday of Advent Pope Benedict XVI remarks that with this a new liturgical year begins: the people of God begin again on the road to living the mystery of Christ in history. Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever;  history, instead, changes and requires constant evangelization; it needs to be renewed from within and the only true novelty is  Christ: he is its fulfilment, the luminous future of humanity and of the world. Advent is therefore the propitious time to awaken in our hearts the expectation of him “who is and who was and who is to come”.

All this is very much in keeping with the content of today’s liturgical readings. The propitious time is here now. Both the reading from Paul and the Gospel reading contain a call to wake up; to stay awake and to stand ready. We live in a world of rapid change, and some of the forces at work and accepted practices are profoundly un-Christian. Paul would regard these as beliefs and works of the night. Faith, belief in Christ and the Gospel message, is a light. Christians are children of this light, called to live in keeping with their Christian beliefs. The Christians addressed by Paul in his letters were made conscious of the message of Christ to the world, although their numbers in society were then minimal. Through their perseverance, in due time the Christian vision came to pervade human society, both religious and political. Today, all, both believers and others, have the prophet’s vision of universal peace before them. Christian should pray that politicians are aware of this vision, and labour to have it become a reality.

This mission to which all believers in Christ are called should not be regarded as a burden, but as a joy. Advent is a season to recall not just that Christ has come and will come again (who was and who will come again), but that he is with us here and now. He is our joy, and the cause of our joy. Before his departure from his own in this world Jesus left a message for his followers that his prayer to the Father  was that his own joy might be in them and that this joy might be complete (John 15:11). It was a joy that no one could take from them, and they were asked to pray that Jesus’ own joy would be in the, and that this joy would be complete (John 16:22-24; 17:13).

This is a message that Pope Francis is at pains to get across to the Church and to the world.

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