This is the first Sunday of Advent and the beginning of a new liturgical year. During Advent we remember the first coming of Jesus and prepare to celebrate his birth at Christmas. We also try to be more attentive to the ways Jesus comes into our lives here and now. And, in continuity with the readings for the last two Sundays, we look forward to Jesus’ coming again in glory at the end of time. The readings for the first Sunday of Advent call our attention to this last way in which Jesus will come to us.
In the reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah, the prophet expresses longing for a clear and powerful manifestation of God. “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, ... while you wrought awesome deeds.” Such an appearance of God would prevent Israel’s wandering from the ways of God and hardening their hearts so they do not fear God. God is “our father, our redeemer.” “We are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.” For God to come into the world mightily and unmistakably would be a gracious act of salvation.
In looking forward to the final coming of Jesus, we expect that for which Isaiah longed. Realizing this can help us to await the final coming of Jesus with longing ourselves. At his final coming it will at last be clear to all that Jesus is Lord, and that our relationship with him is the most important thing in life. However, Isaiah was not thinking that the manifestation of God he longed for would also be the end of history. The final coming of Jesus is the end of history; therefore, it is important to be ready for it.
The reading from the gospel according to Mark makes this point. Because we do not know when Jesus will come again, we need to be watchful and alert, ready all the time. We are like servants left in charge of a house till their master returns. Since they do not know when he will come, “whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning,” they need to be ready constantly so the master does not find them sleeping when he comes. We too need to be vigilant, always ready for the return of Jesus.
The reading from the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians assures us that we can be ready for the final coming of Jesus. The reading is taken from the beginning of the letter. It consists of Paul’s greeting to the recipients followed by his thanksgiving to God for them. Both elements are found in almost all of Paul’s letters.
Paul thanks God for the gifts God has given the Corinthians and tells them, “you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, “i.e., the final coming of Jesus. The Corinthians are quite conscious of the spiritual gifts they have received from God, but are not as mindful of the final coming of Jesus. In this they resemble us. Paul wants them to be aware that we have received spiritual gifts to use as we await the final coming of Jesus. Paul goes on to assure the Corinthians that we have nothing to fear from the final coming of Jesus. God has called us to fellowship with Jesus and God is faithful. Therefore, God “will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul does not say that we will be irreproachable on the day of the Lord whatever we do. However, he assures us that if we try to be ready for the day of the Lord, God will make our efforts effective.
© Terrance Callan