FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT (2020)
Readings:Isaiah 63:16-17, 19Psalms 80:2-3,15-16,18-191 Corinthians 1:3-9Mark 13:33-37
If we were not playing close attention our readings might make us feel that we are still in the Ordinary cycle of the liturgical year, for the themes that mark the end of the liturgical year are just as evident in today’s readings. But the readings for this new Advent season are a bit more double-edged than our recent Sunday readings for they not only turn our attention to the Lord’s second coming when God will gather all things to Himself, but they also help us prepare for, and look forward to, the celebration of the Lord’s first coming, in time and in full humanity – the feast so widely celebrated of Christmas. Advent is a challenging season, for the world we actually dwell in cannot be convinced to wait until Christmas to begin its celebration of that season, a situation made all the more difficult by this pandemic we are wallowing through, for so many of us, as the song suggests, “need a little Christmas, right this very minute.” So it is that during this Advent season, we juggle the themes of Advent with the themes of Christmas and hope to learn what Advent has to teach us through the blare of “Santa Clause is coming to Town.”
As always, faith filled attention to the readings for Advent will help our balance during this important season. Our first reading from the prophet Isaiah clearly conveys the longing for God of the Jewish people, and of all peoples since our eviction from Eden. Speaking of God as Lord, Father, and Redeemer, Isaiah begs God to “rend the heavens and come down,” and Isaiah expresses the hope, in spite of our sinfulness, God “might meet us doing right” and being “mindful of His ways.” A similar sentiment is expressed in the beautiful psalm: “O shepherd of Israel, hearken, and from your throne upon the cherubim, shine forth. Rouse your power, and come to save us.” Isaiah and the psalms express the longing for God which has marked countless numbers of people down through the ages. Central to the Jewish faith is the belief that God will send a Savior, a Messiah, who will protect the vine that “God’s right hand has planted.” As Christians we believe that a loving God, when the time was right, did send the person at “God’s right hand” into our sinful world, and it is that person whose birth we look forward to and celebrate on the great feast of Christmas.
These weeks of Advent celebrate that age-old longing for God, a longing that is likewise ours as we long for God’s second coming in time. It is the longing spoken of by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians when he begs the Messiah to keep the Corinthian community “firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Corinthians are meant not to be “lacking in any spiritual gift as [they] wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ,” a second time! That is our longing, a looking forward to Christmas and a longing for His second coming.
It is on account of readings like our gospel reading from Mark, the oldest of gospels, that the early church felt so strongly that the time of God’s second coming was around the corner. You remember the readings from the oldest book in the Second Testament, Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, when Paul is telling the people to get back to work, virtually telling them to stop sitting on the front steps and waiting for Jesus’ second coming and get back to work. When Jesus does come again, God wants to find us working at spreading the good news of the gospel and establishing God’s kingdom hear on earth. Jesus’ advice in Mark is to “be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” That advice is meant for us as well, being watchful and alert and, while looking for the signs that God has already entered our world, working towards the establishment of God’s Kingdom here on earth. In so doing, we immerse ourselves in a longing which mimics the longing of Moses and the prophets, while at the same time doing what we can to establish God’s Kingdom. We are not meant to sit idle, or to be overly satisfied that Jesus has already come into our world to show us the way home. Being watchful and being alert doesn’t necessarily mean we shouldn’t be busy. We can be watchful and alert while still being busy, and some of that ‘busy-ness’ may mean being busy making a Christmas during the Advent season that is fitting and appropriate.
My first years in the monastery were marked by Advent seasons which were strictly kept, with no Christmas decoration being put up before twelve noon on Christmas Eve. The incredible transformation was only possible because of the number of young people in the monastery at that time. As those numbers dwindled, even the monastery found it necessary, like most ordinary people, to be concerned about preparing for Christmas during the Advent season. The reality is, and I hope I am not surprising anyone here, that Jesus has come into our world on that very first Christmas, and as God was with us in the most special of ways on that day, God still dwells among us. In the midst of an often troubled world, in the midst of hardships and difficulties of all kinds, in the midst of the pandemic, God is still with us, and that should give us comfort. What it shouldn’tdo is make us complacent, so complacent that we do not stay alert and watchful for His second coming into our world. When God does come again, may He find us not only alert, but also busy. Busy about doing what is right and good, busy about spreading the good news, busy about building up God’s kingdom here on earth.