First Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7
Psalm 80:2-3, 1588-16, 18-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
With this first Sunday of Advent we begin a new liturgical year. The Church renews itself, starts over again, and looks for the coming of the Lord at Christmas and at the end of time. There will be no surprises in this religious re-awakening; nothing unexpected will happen liturgically. The world around us will barely notice our “new year” celebration, but we are called as Catholic Christians to renew our commitment to the God who came to us as a small child laying in a manger, and we are called to be watchful and vigilant for that same God to come again at the end of our earthly sojourn.
Our first reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah was written after the Jews had spent some sixty years in exile. The Persian king Cyrus had allowed them to return from Babylon to their homeland, and they were fast at work picking up the pieces of their lives and starting anew. They were chastened by the exile, and Isaiah reminds them that they were sinful and unclean men whose guilt was heavy. But Isaiah’s words were meant to be largely positive, and his blunt honesty is mixed with reminders of who the God of the Jews truly is and what that God is asking of them. Their God, our God, is “father” and “redeemer,” who “wrought awesome deeds” beyond anything they could possibly have hoped for. Isaiah’s prayer is our prayer: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down…. no ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you.” We have a perspective that Isaiah could never have possessed, and so we recognize that God did “rend the heavens and come down” in the event that we call the Incarnation. That same God calls us to continually pick up the pieces of our lives and build a kingdom of justice and peace until he comes again in glory.
Paul’s glorious passage from his first letter to the Corinthians was also meant to be words of encouragement. The entire letter to the Corinthians is Paul’s answer to reports which had reached him concerning disputes and difficulties in Corinth (No church in any era is without challenges and difficulties!). The gifts that God had so generously bestowed on the Corinthian community were being misused, and Paul encourages them to use those gifts for the good of the community until such time that the Lord will return in glory.
Our brief passage from the Gospel of Mark occurs just before Jesus’ passion. In this Apocalyptic chapter of Mark, Jesus has been teaching his disciples about the coming of the Lord. They want to know when that will happen, but Jesus tells them they will not know the day or the hour. They are to “be constantly on the watch,” they are to “stay awake.” This theme of watchfulness will characterize the entire Advent season, and it is meant to characterize the lives of every Christian at all times of the year. We are meant to be servants who recognize that our Lord and Master can return at any time to ask us for an accounting of our lives. But it is not fear of the master’s return which is meant to rule our lives! Rather, it is a passionate longing for his return, it is eager anticipation which should prompt us at all times to do what is right, to build up the kingdom of God through our good deeds. Our good deeds are done in and through the faithful God who called us “to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ.” Isaiah put it so beautifully when he said: “O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you are the potter; we are the work of your hands.” May God mold us into something that can truly be recognized as God’s work. May we spend the days that have been allotted to us doing what is right and good, so that the Lord will find us ready to greet him when he comes to ask us for an accounting of our lives.