1st Advent Sunday B: The Coming of God.
Isa 63:16-17; 64:1, 3-8; Ps 79(80):2-3, 15-16, 18-19; 1 Cor 1:3-9; Mk 13:33-37 Link to readings
Today we celebrate the first of the four Sundays of Advent. It marks the beginning of a new liturgical year after its conclusion last Sunday with the feast of Christ the King. Advent is a season which sees us looking forward to the coming of the Lord. It is a time of expectation. It is, actually, a double expectation:
First of all, we look forward to the celebration of Christmas, with all the joys related to our encounter with family and friends, with the sharing of gifts and meals. Unfortunately, for many, “it’s a season to be merry”, and that’s it! They have forgotten that Christ is the “reason for the season”. However, the Christian knows that he or she is celebrating the greatest event in human history… the incarnation of God himself, who chose to be born in the little town of Bethlehem in Judea. There, far away from the fanfare of royalty, Jesus was born and showed himself to the poor and the outcast. While looking forward to Christmas, Christmas invites us to look back to that moment in time.
We also look forward to the second coming of Jesus, at the end of time. Reflecting upon His first coming, his teachings, and his commendations, we prepare ourselves to encounter him when He comes again. The Jews needed, and were promised salvation. They looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. We believe that the Messiah has come. The death and resurrection of Jesus did in fact reconcile the human race with God. However, salvation is not yet completed for there is still a lot more to accomplish, as is evidenced by the number of people who do not yet know God, the rejection of God by others, and, as importantly, by the fact that many people still live a life that, because of sin, is far from being decent or humane. No wonder we long for a completion of the work of salvation and the second coming of Christ our Saviour. Advent expresses our faith in the possibility of a better world, a world where people are given priority over profit, power, and privilege.
Today’s scripture readings give voice to our own experience and our longing for a Saviour. The first reading, taken from the third part of the book of Isaiah, expresses a sincere longing for true salvation. The Jews had experienced exile, and knew that the prophecies of salvation proclaimed earlier in the book had been fulfilled. They also knew that there was still a long way to go. They still had to struggle to see God’s promises fulfilled.
The prophet addresses God as Redeemer and Father, and asks Him the question that resonates in our mind: Why do you let us go astray? Why O Lord, are there so many people who have no regard for you and for fellow human beings? Why do so many people sin and bring suffering to others? Why do we find ourselves so tempted to depart from the path of righteousness? He writes:
We were all like men unclean,
all that integrity of ours like filthy clothing.
We have all withered like leaves
and our sins blew us away like the wind. (Isa 64:6)
The prophet believes that God, like a potter refashioning clay, is able to refashion people according to his plan. And so, in very vivid language he gives expression to his belief that God could end his silence and remoteness. He calls upon Him: Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down! How many times have we prayed for the same thing? If only God would open the heavens and come down to see what is happening in the world around us… people struggling for power only to serve themselves; people who live and act as if their neighbour did not exist; people who abuse others for their own gain and questionable desires. It is never-ending.
Making it more personal: If only God would come down and touch our own weaknesses and failings! If only He would do away with our sinfulness and make us pure within and without.
And then we remember the day Jesus called upon John the Baptist, to be baptised like all the rest. As he emerged from the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:10-11). In the person of Jesus, God’s answer has come. Salvation is at hand. It is offered to all, whether it comes as a result of a tearing apart of heaven, or the result of a small crack in the wall that allows light to shine through. How wonderful it would be if men and women, acting from within their freedom and liberty, responded positively to God’s presence.
That positive response is what Jesus encourages us to make our own. He invites us to be on guard and to stay awake. Surely Jesus is not inviting us to take these words literally and spend our days and nights awake, sitting with folded arms, waiting for Him to appear, or obsess ourselves with the end of the world. He is rather inviting us to be alert to his promptings, to use our time well, and thus be well-disposed to welcome Him when He comes to encounter us… whether that’s in our daily life, at the end of our life on earth, or on the final day.
Advent invites us discover that there could be a difference between the life we live and the life we choose to live. God does reveal his plan to us through the people we encounter and the circumstances of life. They are a revelation of His presence in our midst. We only need to be alert and open to the unmistakable signs of God’s presence in people and events. As faithful disciples we need to commit our lives, here and now, to the great work God has begun in this world. May our eyes be open to the comings of God into our lives and into the lives of others, especially those who are suffering.
In his poem “Silent Steps”, the Indian poet Tagore says…
Have you not heard his silent steps?
He comes, comes, ever comes.
In every moment and every age, every day and every night.
May we be awake and alert to welcome Him.
If you have found this homily spiritually uplifting, encouraging and/or challenging, please send me your reflection on [email protected]. I would love to hear what the Spirit inspires you with. God bless you.