Dec. 2, 2017

First Sunday of Advent, 2017


Readings- 1st- Is. 63: 16-17, 19; 64:2-7; 2nd- 1 Cor. 1: 3-9; Gospel- Mark 13: 33-37

The season of advent calls us to vigilance. It reminds us of the coming of the messiah, the Christ. This coming is imminent and distant at the same time, hence calls for watchful preparation. The prophet Isaiah reminds us in the first reading of how the Lord would want to meet us; “Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage” (Is. 63:17). That’s who we are, the heritage of God. The prophet prays that we be in good state to meet the Lord when he comes. He laments our sinful, unclean state like “withered like leaves”, and that “our guilt carries us away” from doing the will of God. Humanity’s woundedness and depravity play out clearly in our daily lives; ugly deeds that are unpleasant to God. Bad steps and decisions characterize our actions. Anxiety makes us drift, often not to trust God adequately. The prophet invites us to the loving ways of God.

Interestingly, prophet Isaiah uses the image of the potter and the clay to describe the relationship between God and us, “Yet, O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter; we are all the work of your hands” (Is. 64:7). This brings out an important attribute of God in relation to our human brokenness. God is represented as the potter- patient and loving. He cares for us and desires our salvation. We are the work of God’s hands created in his divine image and likeness. As potter, he molds us patiently. The story holds of a potter who is asked how he feels each time he stays near the fire molding a particular piece of image. His reply is that he doesn’t feel the heat of the fire. The potter states that when he stays near the fire creating and molding his artwork, his joy is in the image that he produces. That in looking at the image he sees his own image. This is how we appear before God. God stands with us even in the heat of our sins. He doesn’t feel the heat, rather he sees in us his image and likeness. He is concerned with saving us. The Psalmist remarks, “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love. The Lord is good to all, compassionate to every creature” (Ps. 145:8-9).

Jesus invites us to respond to the love of God, our Father. His approach in the gospel could be described as both a warning and a prayerful invitation. Christ warns about his second coming (Parousia), “Be watchful! Be alert!” In the Old Testament, those who watch over the city are called sentinels or sentry. They are described as being very attentive and watchful. In the Psalms we read, “My soul waits for the Lord, more than sentinels wait for the dawn. More than sentinels wait for the dawn, let Israel wait for the Lord” (Ps. 130:6-7). It is a vigilance that goes beyond the observable, a watch that flows from the heart. This is what Christ calls us to do, to watch, “You do not know when the time will come”. Therefore, he warns, “Whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning” (Matt. 13:36). Jesus speaks here about the last things, the signs of the end marked by persecutions as well as the coming of the Son of Man. If we are unsure of his coming, then it becomes pertinent that we must be vigilant and keep constant watch.

Christ ends that passage with a prayerful invitation: “May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping”. As we begin this advent journey, we must recognize the power of God’s word in us. God’s word equips us. It enlightens us on the demands of the kingdom of heaven. It reminds us to be constantly watchful. Like the sentinels, preparation demands attention and watchful vigilance. Is the Master coming today or tomorrow? That is not so much relevant as to the fact that he must come. Prophet Hosea says, “Let us know, let us strive to know the Lord, that he will come is as certain as the dawn” (6:3). Let us live every moment as if that is the Master’s hour.

In the second reading, we hear Saint Paul, “I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:4). God’s grace is in our hearts, but we must feel it. His grace enables us to cooperate with him. To be good clay, we must allow the potter to manipulate us and get us to the desired shape. Sin distorts that shape. Sin makes us uncooperative of God’s intention for us. Sin makes us act like polluted rags, like withered leaves that the prophet Isaiah laments in the first reading. But God’s grace keeps us out of the entrapment of sin and human brokenness. Grace enables us to be vigilant, to aspire towards good deeds. Grace opens us to listen to Christ as he says, “What I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” That voice is clear enough for those who cooperate with his grace.

Everyone is invited to be watchful. Last Sunday, we were instructed on how to keep watch. Give food to the hungry. Give water to the thirsty. Give clothing to the naked. Give comfort to the sick. Pay attention to those in prison. That’s the invitation for advent. That is the Master’s hour. Two things set the alarm for the Master’s hour: 1) Avoid whatever leads us into sin. 2) Aspire towards good deeds. As Christ said, I wish to say to all of us again, “Be watchful! Be alert!”

Dear friends, be alert in doing good. Be alert in showing love to others. Be alert in forgiving your detractors. Be alert in entering dialogue with your opponent. Be alert in using positive, helpful words. Be alert in asking forgiveness when you offend. Be alert in pursuing peace. Be alert in promoting justice for the oppressed. Be alert to God’s will in your life.