SCRIPTURE SPEAKS: First Sunday of Advent

The Gospel reading sounds the call of Advent:  Be watchful!  How?

Gospel (Read Mk 13:33-37)

Our very first Gospel in this new season of Advent puts into our ears Jesus’ own words to prepare us for it:  “Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Be watchful!  Be alert!’”  He then tells them how to do this.  He uses the example of a household in which “the lord of the house” has gone away and left his servants “in charge, each with his own work.”  The servants are warned against being asleep on the job.  Since they “do not know when the lord of the house is coming,” they must not make the mistake of thinking they can be lazy or indifferent toward their work.  The best way for them to “watch” for their master is to be conscientious and active in the work he has given them to do.

What a wonderful way for us to start this season of waiting!  Through all its Scripture readings, liturgies, and celebrations, we will be roused up out of whatever laziness, doldrums, or distractions might have gotten a foothold in us this past year, helping us now to heed Jesus’ call to “watch.”  When we remember the work He has left for us and decide to give fresh attention and energy to it, we will not be caught sleeping at His return, whenever it may be.  As surely as Jesus came the first time, in a manger, He will come again, in power and glory.  In the meantime, He “comes” to us in every Mass, in the bread and wine, as we acclaim, “Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the LORD.”

During this penitential season, let us check ourselves for drowsiness and heavy-lidded eyes; let us have ears to hear what the Church is saying:  “Be alert!”

Possible response: Lord Jesus, I want to be awake to You this year.  Help me prepare well for that during Advent.

First Reading (Read Isa 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7)

Isaiah was sent by God to the people of Judah (about 700 B.C.), because having wandered so far from covenant faithfulness, they had “become like unclean people.”  Here, however, he calls out to God on their behalf:  “Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from Your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear You not?”  The sin of the people had become so bad that Isaiah pleaded to God:  “Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down.”  He remembered that God physically visited His people on Mt. Sinai, centuries earlier, when Moses delivered them from bondage in Egypt.  Isaiah longs for another visit from God, but he knows the people of Israel are not ready for that yet, because even their “good deeds are like polluted rags; we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind.”  Sadly, Isaiah knew that fellowship with God had been radically broken:  “There is none who calls upon Your Name, who rouses himself to cling to You.”  See that sloth had infected these people, the very thing Jesus warned us about in the Gospel.

However, the prophet knows that no matter how broken the relationship between God and His people, He is still their “father.”  The people, for all their faults, are still “clay” in the hands of the “potter.”  This is always the hope of God’s people. The first Advent of Jesus answered Isaiah’s longing for God to appear beyond what any “ear has ever heard” or “eye ever seen.”  He did that “for those who wait for Him.”  The second Advent of Jesus, for which we are now preparing, will do the same.  Jesus repeats Isaiah’s desire to help us form our Advent resolve this year:  “Would that You might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of You in our ways!”

Possible response: Lord Jesus, I know that being ready for You means being serious about resisting sin.  Please strengthen me against it during this Advent.

Psalm (Read Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19)

The expectation of seeing God’s face, described in different ways in the Gospel and our first reading, finds expression yet again in our psalm.  The fact is, ever since the Garden of Eden, man has longed to see the face of God.  When Adam and Eve were exiled from Paradise, they took with them this sense of longing.  Jesus fulfilled man’s deepest desire by revealing to us “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6).  This event was in direct answer to the psalmist’s prayer:  “O shepherd of Israel, hearken, from Your throne upon the cherubim, shine forth.  Rouse Your power, and come to save us.”

Now, we find ourselves, as God’s people, still longing to see His face, because we know that the work of salvation, although begun with the first Advent, will only be truly fulfilled with the Second Advent.  So we find the words of our responsorial appropriately powerful today:  “LORD, make us turn to You; let us see Your face and we shall be saved.”

Possible response: The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings.  Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.

Second Reading (Read 1 Cor 1:3-9)

The wonderful help we get from St. Paul’s reading today is the knowledge that we can begin this Advent season with confidence that what we need to be ready for the Lord’s return has already been given to us.  In his letter to the Church in Corinth, a group of converts made up largely of former pagans, St. Paul assures them that, because of their conversion, they were “not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  We should note that if we were to read all of this epistle, we would discover that the Corinthian church was actually plagued by many problems, including immorality, liturgical chaos, and doctrinal confusion.  However, we can see at the outset St. Paul’s confidence that Jesus “will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Why could he be so sure about this?  St. Paul knew that God was working out His plan in these people, and as long as they did not fall asleep on the job, “God is faithful, and by Him you were called to fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

This is exactly the perspective we need as we begin Advent in 2011:  God wants us to see His face again, as much as we do.  He has done everything necessary for that to happen, as we could not do it for ourselves.  What is our part?  It is to do the work He has given us to do, with all the spiritual gifts granted to us in our baptism and confirmation.  If we embrace today for the glory of God, we will see the Glory of God when He returns; we will be responsive to the call to be “watchful” and “alert.”

Possible response: Father, I thank You that I have all I need to enable me to be ready to see the face of Jesus.  Help me remember to use Your gifts well in my Advent waiting.

Gayle Somers

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Gayle Somers is a member of St. Thomas the Apostle parish in Phoenix and has been writing and leading parish Bible studies since 1996. She is the author of three bible studies, Galatians: A New Kind of Freedom Defended (Basilica Press), Genesis: God and His Creation and Genesis: God and His Family (Emmaus Road Publishing). Gayle and her husband Gary reside in Phoenix and have three grown children.

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