DECEMBER 3RD, 2017: FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
You, LORD, are our father,
our redeemer you are named forever.
Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways,
and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?
Return for the sake of your servants,
the tribes of your heritage.
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
with the mountains quaking before you,
while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for,
such as they had not heard of from of old.
No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you
doing such deeds for those who wait for him.
Would that you might meet us doing right,
that we were mindful of you in our ways!
Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful;
all of us have become like unclean people,
all our good deeds are like polluted rags;
we have all withered like leaves,
and our guilt carries us away like the wind.
There is none who calls upon your name,
who rouses himself to cling to you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have delivered us up to our guilt.
Yet, O LORD, you are our father;
we are the clay and you the potter:
we are all the work of your hands.
Brothers and sisters:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God always on your account
for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus,
that in him you were enriched in every way,
with all discourse and all knowledge,
as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you,
so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift
as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He will keep you firm to the end,
irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God is faithful,
and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord.
Jesus said to his disciples:
"Be watchful! Be alert!
You do not know when the time will come.
It is like a man traveling abroad.
He leaves home and places his servants in charge,
each with his own work,
and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.
you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,
whether in the evening, or at midnight,
or at cockcrow, or in the morning.
May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.
What I say to you, I say to all: 'Watch!'"
Today’s Third-Isaiah reading only makes sense when we understand that our biblical writers believed people thought with their hearts, not their minds. (Feelings, on the other hand, originated with their kidneys, not their hearts.) So when the prophet accuses his people of “hardening their hearts to Yahweh,” he’s actually charging them with closing their minds to Yahweh. Since they don’t expect anything from God, they don’t even think about God. “There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you; for you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt.” Though Third-Isaiah knows Yahweh is on the verge of helping those recently released from the Babylonian Exile, God can only do what people permit God to do. How does one go about getting someone to recognize, “You are our father; we are the clay and you the potter; we are all the work of your hands.” Anticipation of God’s actions plays a big role in experiencing God’s actions.
Not anticipating and recognizing God’s actions can even apply to the gifts God gives us. That’s one of the reasons Paul of Tarsus is forced to write I Corinthians. Though the Apostle begins his letter by praising the community for “not lacking any spiritual gift as you wait for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” things go downhill from that point. Some individuals believe the Spirit has given them specific talents for their own sakes, not recognizing how each of those gifts was intended to meld together to build up the body of Christ for the common good. They’re certainly blessed, for instance, with “all discourse and all knowledge.” But some are using their knowledge and discourse to tear Christ’s body apart.
What a shame to have hearts so hardened to the risen Jesus that we can’t appreciate the gifts which are meant to help us carry on her/his ministry. How can we remain “firm to the end” when we don’t understand in what that end consists? It’s our end, not my end. Jesus’ followers are working out this end together.
Perhaps the best line in all three readings is the Gospel Jesus’ warning, “Be watchful! Be alert!” Those who strive to become other Christs are obligated to create a unique frame of mind. Though we “catechism-trained” Catholics were deliberately given the impression we pretty much had everything all together – and had put it into one book for safe-keeping – that’s certainly not the mentality of our Christian sacred authors. Thankfully they wrote Scripture, not catechisms.
Mark’s Jesus directs his call for watchfulness to a community still expecting an imminent Parousia. Yet the command to be alert goes far beyond just looking for Jesus’ Second Coming. The story he tells demonstrates how constantly being on guard is an essential part of our faith. As servants of the risen Jesus, we never know when the “master” is going to break into our lives. There’s no such thing as a sacred place, time, or person who can prepare us for such an encounter. The fact that it happens makes the place, time, or person sacred, not vice-versa. If we’re not continually attentive, we’ll miss what, as Jesus’ servants, we’ve been uniquely trained to experience.
Perhaps we’ve been so occupied with learning “faith stuff” that we neglected to learn a faith “mentality.” We might have just created lots of religious, absent-minded “professors;” people who know all about the facts of their faith, but aren’t alert enough to know what’s actually happening in their faith around them.
Too bad those catechism facts simply served as a sleeping pill. Maybe what we need now is a little more biblical caffeine in our faith.