Michael Barnes SA,
1st Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 63.16-17; 64.1, 3-8: To begin the new liturgical year and to prepare for the coming of the Lord at Christmas we turn to the book of Isaiah, the great prophecy of hope and expectation. These verses date from the time or the restoration late in the sixth century. but the excitement of starting afresh and of rebuilding the old city is far from the prophet's mind. He makes it clear that the first priority is for the people to re-establish their relationship with Yahweh.
One phrase almost a prayer of supplication begins and ends our reading. "You, Lord, yourself are our Father." God does not often get that title explicitly in the Old Testament; rather more frequently we hear him talking about Israel, his people, as "My Son". God is "father-like" because he treats his people with all the care and affection a real father would show for his son even one, like Isreal, full of despair and a sense of inadequacy.
The prophet knew that failure well enough; its evidence was all around him and he was not afraid to accept responsibility on behalf of the people. "We have all withered like leaves and our sins blew us away like the wind."
Looking to the past is a salutary exercise in the best sense. Most people who are made aware of their various lapses soon despair. But not those over whom God exercises a fatherly care. Israel knows in the midst of its woes that it can still turn to God, for Our Redeemer is your ancient name'. Like a father God is ready to save his son and to restore him to a newer and brighter future.
I Corinthians 1.3-9: The first reading is about human weakness. The second is about divine strength and the way in which God shares his gifts with his people. The key words are contained in Paul's greeting: "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Grace is simply the free gift of salvation; peace is its fruit the calm assurance that God is already reconciling the world to himself. The fear and doubt that Isaiah expressed can
have no place in the new People of God, built firmly on the foundation that is Christ.
Paul has various complaints to make about the Corinthians and a number of tricky questions he must answer.
Paul tries to set them right. But he is not a kill-joy. He wishes simply to point out that the source of all gifts is God. What the Corinthians enjoy is not something they have earned by right but something given freely in Christ 'I give thanks to God for you ... than in every way you were enriched in him with all speech and knowledge.' They are what they are only because God has made them so.
Mark 13.33-37: The Corinthians certainly fell from grace, but Paul is quite clear that God who is faithful 'will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of Our Lord Jesus Christ'. That promise of the second coming, when God will finally judge and vindicate those who have responded to the message of hope and peace, is the background to our Gospel reading, At the end of a long discourse to his disciples in which he warns them about coming crises and catastrophes Jesus tells a tiny parable about the coming judgement. It will be like a man who goes abroad, leaving his servants in charge of the house. He does not tell them-when he will return not even. what time of day or night. What should they do? Simply "stay awake!"
The final verse repeats the message with a slight modification:"What I say to you I say to all",Jesus' words are a summary of the whole chapter and in many ways of the entire Gospel. The instructions to the disciples, of all times and ages, are finished. What follows is the mystery of the Passion, the great test of faith in the suffering Messiah. Now more than ever the disciples must be awake and watch with their Lord.
Advent is not just about preparing for Christmas or Waiting for the return or the Master. but about being alive and awake and ready to respond effectively at all times. For all is in the hand of God. And he is our Father.