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Readings for the First Sunday of Advent, Cycle A

1. Isaiah 2, 1-5

  • This is what Isaiah saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.  It is one of the few readings that carries its own commentary with it!  I would add that many believers hope for its fulfillment across the earth.
  • In days to come.  We begin a new liturgical year by meditating on our end, which is what God intends for the people.  Our ongoing contribution to the war spirit in the world, our massive production of cutting edge arms through the military-industrial complex, are going on “in these present days.”  But God has control over the coming days; do I say it as if I really believed it?
  • The mountain of the Lord’s house... the highest mountain.  Every land may have its patron God, but the God of Israel will stand out among others.  As the Gospels say, what is hidden will come to light.  We believe that a great part of God’s visibility depends on us who receive the revelation and lived changed lives.  So if God is a God of peace, we must live the ways of peace for the world to see.  Otherwise this high mountain becomes an evil empire.
  • All  nations... many peoples... shall stream toward it.  We do not describe isolated events but scenes that everyone can see.  This climbing toward God forms the dynamic of the first part of this passage.
  • May God instruct us in his ways.  And God’s teaching forms the second part.  I must pray that the vision comes closer to fulfillment, at a time when repression and violence are prominent in that land. 
  • The word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  It has been spoken through the ages just as I am speaking it now.  It is repeated without interruption, to judge our blind rush to armed revenge and occupation.  What power!  With even a little faith our assembly can bring false power and might to an end.  Let my voice echo the promise.
  • They shall beat their swords into plowshares.  On the one hand, we are invited to leave war.  On the other, we are invited to use our tools in responsible stewardship of the earth.  Many non-Christians have been inspired by this vision, and some have given themselves to this hope with greater perseverance than we. 
  • Nor shall they train for war again.  Many have sons in military life as I do, and they know the state of mind that accompanies that life.  Parents pass it on to their children.  If God’s mountain is the highest of all, then every person of other countries and religions is a child of God.  Let us join in a wall of faith that drives back the vengeful hearts in our midst.
  • Central point: God intends an end for the world very different from the poisonous one we have been building over the centuries.
  • Message for our assembly: Do we see this alternative vision and embrace it?
  • I will challenge myself: To read the closing words Let us walk in the light of the Lord! with the prophet’s eager longing. 

2. Romans 13, 11-14

  • You know the time.  All the readings today seem to be about time; not the time of day but rather the decisive time of our life. 
  • It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.  The apostle treats his listeners like children aroused from their afternoon nap.  Let me take the cue, speaking gently and musically.
  • Our salvation is nearer...  We think we are getting older each day, a little closer to death, further from our day of birth.  The church always celebrated the birthdays of its saints on the day they met the Lord.  In a sense, we are getting younger with each passing day!
  • The reading is filled with references to light and day.
  • Let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day.  It is also filled with purpose.  God’s calendar is not a neutral machine like ours, witnessing equally to savagery and compassion.  We already have seen the flow toward peace in the prophet.  Here we are taking charge of events, throwing off, conducting, putting on. 
  • Not in orgies... rivalry and jealousy.  These are the actions that destroy community, and we are hungry for community in the church.  I shall read them more in a reminding tone than in condemnation.
  • Yes, put on the Lord Jesus Christ.  While the phrase is very familiar, it is not so easy to read.  Let me imagine children dressing up for church.  I need to rehearse it so that my tone of voice rises throughout, to the final words “Jesus Christ.”
  • Climax: The night is advanced; the day is at hand.
  • The message for our assembly: Can we cultivate a sense of God’s calendar, in which we are getting nearer to the “great getting-up morning”?
  • I will challenge myself: To continue reading as a mother to her children.

Gospel. Matthew 24, 37-44

  • The coming of the Son of Man reaches our ears like a drumbeat, repeated four times.  What else is coming: primary elections, income taxes, bowl games, by which we set our inner clock?  How about getting attuned to Christ?
  • Three events are reported, all of them sudden and unexpected.  First, The days of Noah, when they did not know until the flood carried them away.
  • Then, two men will be in the field... two women will be grinding.  Now I read of people in a crowd singled out by random violence or an auto accident.  If I read this as a story rather than as a news report I may communicate better.
  • If the master of the house... Finally, an anxiety that haunts all of us homeowners in the assembly.  We know first-hand about break-ins and the shock that follows.  Jesus is telling us something we could very easily repeat back to him in our own words!  The sentence is long and expressed in negatives.  I don’t want to spoil the moment for my listeners, so I will rehearse until it flows naturally. 
  • Climax: Therefore, stay awake! 
  • Message for our assembly: What events gyrate in our own inner clocks?
  • I will challenge myself: To find admonishing words, to shake a church out of secular awareness into God’s time.  That will be my Advent gift to them.

From Word to Eucharist: Advent is that time of standing in the darkness, in readiness to receive the light.  As we walk together we are joined by the greatest dreamer saints who encourage us by their examples.

 

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