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Advent 1 (B)
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Readings for the First Sunday of Advent, Cycle B

1. Isaiah 63, 16-17 and 19, then 64, 2-7
  • For you have hidden your face from us.  I hear an urgent appeal filled with grief.  The people have become withered like leaves, carried away by the wind.
  • And yet they do not give up hope.  Return for the sake of your servants.  No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds.
  • The prophet asks God for a theophany as in the days of Moses and Elijah.  Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you. 
  • He expresses deep feelings, in the name of a people whose ambitions had been frustrated, even trampled upon, by the empires of history.  Over the years I have witnessed and shared the private griefs of those forced to leave their country, those whose homes have been destroyed by hurricane and await long promised relief, those who have lost their spouse or parent or child to the ravages of war.  Why do you let us wander?  How can I read these words without feeling?
  • I read this lengthy passage once during a liturgy in Costa Rica, doing it in such a way that the homilist was obliged to comment on it.  Given a confession charged with such sincere emotion, it was not hard for me to read with feeling.  At times like that I came to understand that proclamation in its fullest sense includes reception of the word as well as effective delivery.
  • Central theme: At the beginning and end of the passage I hear the prophet affirming God: You are our Father.  There must be a reason why we never hear the word “believe” in the Hebrew Testament.  God’s abiding love for Israel is as self-evident as the rising of the sun every day.  To talk about faith, in the face of such an overwhelming presence, is to insult God.
  • Message for our assembly: If our faith comes too easy for us, then something must be lacking in it – something more needed, as Jesus said to the young man.  Israel in its anguish and its enduring hope will remind us that our faith must be grounded in God’s will, carried out in God’s own time.
  • I will challenge myself: To imitate the invincible trust of the people of Israel, leading the congregation through the depths of misfortune, the silence and self-doubt, to the true God who is always with us – Emmanuel. 

 

2. I Corinthians 1, 3-9

  • The apostle repeats the name of the Lord Jesus Christ five times.  How can I say it so that each saying will sound deliberate, and not like the sloganeering of an inexperienced public speaker?
  • This is the same community that was not lacking in any spiritual gift.  And the apostle is glad for such abundance: I give thanks to my God always.  But they need reminding that underlying their gifts is the call to fellowship with God’s Son.  All that we share with each other, every spiritual gift, every act of generosity toward our neighbor, get their meaning from him. 
  • You wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Indeed, the whole world will find its meaning on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This appearance, and our transformation, is the theme of Advent itself, repeated here in various ways.  The grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus.  He will keep you firm to the end.  God is faithful; by him you were called to fellowship with his Son.
  • The message for our assembly: Christ belongs not just in the center of the Christmas celebration, but in the center of all seasons.  We cannot let ourselves be distracted by the coming orgy of gift-giving (to ourselves and others), or by the countless parties and receptions that begin right now, when we should be reserving for Christ the place of honor that gives purpose to everything we do.
  • Central theme: Christ is the beginning and end of our lives.
  • I will challenge myself: To pronounce with warmth and freshness today the apostle’s ancient words of assurance to a church that he deeply loves.

 

Gospel. Mark 13, 33-37

  • Be watchful!  Be alert!  You do not know when the time will come.  May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.  I say to all: Watch!  These are insistent, sobering words from Jesus today.  He should know about sudden events, since his words come just before the narration of his Passion and Death.
  • Everyone in our congregation has learned the importance of vigilance in our modern world.  We keep a close eye on our wealth and property.  We especially take precautions for our personal safety in a city that, as the media love to remind us, is filled with danger. 
  • And we are fully aware that we know so little about the secret designs of others.  That is why it will not be hard to confirm today the words of Jesus: You do not know when the Lord of the house is coming.  Not that God’s designs are secret!  God just takes longer to speak the final decisive word. 
  • I will evoke this sense of vigilance in my listeners, as I say the words The time will come.  The suspense will mount in my voice as I count down the time: in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow or in the morning.
  • Central theme: Vigilance is the touchstone of Advent. 
  • Message for our assembly: We must be ready for Jesus’ return, readier than we are for any worldly goals, readier than we are to shop for Christmas, truly poor in spirit.
  • I will challenge myself: To take a cue from the stubborn insistence that our president and vice-president use in their speeches, outdoing their worldly zeal as I repeat the admonishing words of Jesus to the assembly.

Word to Eucharist: Let us remind ourselves that our union around the table today is a foretaste of the union still to come. 

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