NOVEMBER 27TH, 2016: FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
This is what Isaiah, son of Amoz,
saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In days to come,
the mountain of the LORD’s house
shall be established as the highest mountain
and raised above the hills.
All nations shall stream toward it;
many peoples shall come and say:
“Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may instruct us in his ways,
and we may walk in his paths.”
For from Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and impose terms on many peoples.
They shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
one nation shall not raise the sword against another,
nor shall they train for war again.
O house of Jacob, come,
let us walk in the light of the Lord!
Brothers and sisters:
You know the time;
it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.
For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed;
the night is advanced, the day is at hand.
Let us then throw off the works of darkness
and put on the armor of light;
let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day,
not in orgies and drunkenness,
not in promiscuity and lust,
not in rivalry and jealousy.
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ,
and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“As it was in the days of Noah,
so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
In those days before the flood,
they were eating and drinking,
marrying and giving in marriage,
up to the day that Noah entered the ark.
They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away.
So will it be also at the coming of the Son of Man.
Two men will be out in the field;
one will be taken, and one will be left.
Two women will be grinding at the mill;
one will be taken, and one will be left.
Therefore, stay awake!
For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.
Be sure of this: if the master of the house
had known the hour of night when the thief was coming,
he would have stayed awake
and not let his house be broken into.
So too, you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
Biblical followers of God live in the middle of the tension between what’s actually happening in their lives right now and what they expect to happen in the future.
Over the centuries some religious leaders have been accused of focusing their people’s eyes so intently on the future that they conveniently ignored the painful here and now of their daily lives, a here and now they should – and could – have changed. They didn’t lift a finger, for instance, to help eradicate slavery. They simply taught that there’d be no slaves in heaven.
The prophet First Isaiah could never be blamed for employing that maneuver to avoid responsibility for the world’s problems. Though in today’s first reading he speaks about an ideal future, he was active during a period in biblical history in which no one believed in an after-life as we do today. Isaiah’s ideal future was restricted to the confines of this life.
That’s why the prophet is so concrete when he speaks about that longed-for future. “They shall beat their swords into plowshares,” he proclaims, “and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another.” There’s no eternal bliss waiting for anyone in heaven. We can only hope for peace and tranquility right here and now.
Yet there’s a condition for acquiring this peace and tranquility. We must be open to hearing God instructing us in his paths and walk in his ways. The problem is that some people hear God’s word and carry it out, while others go through life without even noticing the path God expects them to travel. Our sacred authors presume this awareness – or lack of it - effects both our here and now and our future. But the question remains: why do some hear while others don’t?
It’s clear from today’s gospel pericope that the early Christian community frequently reflected on that same question. Though Matthew projects this query into the future Parousia – Jesus’ Second Coming – many Scripture scholars believe this passage originally revolved around the situation many Christians encountered in their daily lives. How come two people from the same background – even the same family – have different reactions to Jesus’ message? Two men will be the field, two women grinding at the same mill; one will be taken by Jesus, the other won’t. The only way to explain it is that one was awake to what was happening around him or her; the other wasn’t.
Just as someone pre-warned that a robber was going to hit their house tonight “would . . . stay awake and not let his house be broken into,” so we’ve been pre-warned that the Son of Man is coming, not only in his Parousia, but also in our day by day lives. Psychologists often mention that unless we’re actually looking for someone or something, we won’t recognize them when they actually arrive. Staying awake is key to carrying on the risen Jesus’ ministry.
That appears to be one of the reasons Paul zeroes in on the same theme in today’s Romans passage. “It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep,” he writes, “for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” Scripture scholars point out that biblical salvation isn’t just something which will start after our physical deaths; it also begins right now, whenever we die to ourselves, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provisions for the desires of the flesh.”
As other Christs we’re expected to challenge the same unjust situations the historical Jesus challenged. Those who believe everything in this world is just going along hunky dory have obviously forgotten to set their alarm clocks.