| Is 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7
|| Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
|| 1 Cor 1:3-9
|| Mk 13:33-37
Advent: looking forward by looking back
Happy new liturgical year! This Sunday marks the start of a new liturgical year and a new season. The year’s Sunday gospel readings change from Matthew to Mark; the season’s color is now Advent’s purple. In Advent, the Lectionary readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to look back to God’s promises and to look forward to their fulfillment.
In the first reading from Isaiah, the returned exiles lament what they find: the Temple burned and Jerusalem in ruins. In striking language, Isaiah asks that God “tear open the heavens and come down” to be with the people again, and through “awesome deeds” restore Jerusalem to its former glory. The Lectionary editors chose this passage to show us that God has fulfilled this request, “tearing open heaven and coming down” in Jesus’ incarnation.
In the second reading from the first letter to the Corinth ekklesia, Paul opens with greetings and thanksgiving for the believing community. He previews a few issues he will cover, including charismatic gifts, unity, and fellowship meals. Paul sets the Corinthian’s gifts in an eschatological context. Despite the Corinthians’ present knowledge, they are still waiting for the Lord “to be revealed.” Here Paul describes the paradox of the “already” and the “not yet:” the Corinthians already have particular gifts they need to build up the believing community, but these gifts will not be fully known or understood until Jesus’ return–the not yet. Advent reminds us that Jesus is with us now in word and sacrament, but we will know him fully only when he comes again in the parousia.
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to watch and to stay awake; he summarizes promise and fulfillment in the parable of the doorkeeper.
- The instructions. As part of his end-time teachings, Jesus admonishes disciples to be watchful and to be alert because no one knows when “the time will come.”
- The parable. This parable is similar to the parable of the talents we heard a few weeks ago. A man going on an indeterminate trip tells his slaves to continue their work and commands the doorkeeper to watch for his return. The master will judge the slaves when he returns.
- The meaning. Jesus intends this parable not just for first-century disciples, but for all disciples (“What I say to you, I say to all.”). His command–“Be vigilant!”–warns disciples to remain watchful for his promised return. When he fulfills his promise, the Lord will judge each disciple on how well he or she has lived as his disciple. There is no room for complacency in Christian life.
The Advent readings invite RCIA participants and the whole believing community to look back to God’s promises and forward to their fulfillment. God fulfilled Isaiah’s request to “tear open the heavens and come down” through Jesus’ incarnation. Paul tells us God has already given us the gifts we need to live as disciples, although we can’t yet fully understand or appreciate them. Jesus warns us to watch for his promised return by fulfilling our discipleship daily. Advent is a time of waiting for Jesus’ coming at Christmas and watching for Jesus’ coming again. How are we using our time?
||Ps 122: 1-2, 3-4, 4-5, 6-7,8-9
Advent: preparing for what’s coming
Happy new year! This Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, marks the start of a new liturgical year and a new season. In this new liturgical year, the Sunday gospel readings change from Luke’s gospel to Matthew’s gospel. In this new liturgical season, the season color changes from Ordinary time’s green to Advent’s purple. As we begin Advent, the Lectionary asks RCIA participants and the believing community to prepare for Jesus’ coming.
In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah describes his vision of God’s realized kingdom. All nations worship God; God instructs and justly judges everyone. Isaiah tells us that we will “beat our swords into plowshares” only when God leads all nations. Without God, universal peace remains a human vision. The coming messiah offers a chance for us to achieve Isaiah’s vision. The reading closes with a prayer of hope and preparation: “Come, let us walk in the Lord’s light.”
In the second reading, Paul writes to the Roman ekklesia, urging them to “wake” and prepare for Jesus’ return. Quoting a baptismal hymn, Paul tells the Romans to “throw off the works of darkness” and to prepare for the Lord’s return by “putting on Christ” and dressing in “the armor of light.”
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to prepare for the son of man’s return. Jesus gives three warnings about preparedness:
- The days of Noah: In Noah’s time, only a few people were aware of the coming destruction; they didn’t know until the flood came and carried them away. Jesus warns his disciples: it will be the same when the son of man returns–many will be caught unaware.
- The everyday now: Jesus gives real scenes from daily life to emphasize the suddenness of the son of man’s return. People will be living workaday lives and in an instant everything will change.
- The unready homeowner: Jesus tells a final story about an unpredictable event: a robbery. The homeowner’s only defense against the thief is watchfulness.
Jesus concludes with two warnings to his disciples: Stay awake (v 42) and be ready (v 44)! In the final weeks of Ordinary time, Jesus warned his disciples to watch for the signs of the end-times. In Advent, Jesus tells his disciples rather than trying to predict the future, they should prepare for it.
The Advent readings ask RCIA participants and the whole believing community: are we ready for what’s coming? Isaiah prays for God to intervene and bring a peaceable kingdom. Paul tells us to awake to our coming salvation. Jesus warns us to be ready because the son of man can return at any moment. Advent is our preparation for Isaiah’s prayer fulfilled: God breaks into human history through Jesus’ Incarnation. Are we stringing holiday lights or are we putting on our armor of light? Are we settling in for a long winter’s nap or are we awake to Jesus coming? Are we ready for what comes next?
||Ps 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14
||1 Thes 3:12-4:2
||Lk 21:25-28, 34-36
Advent: a sense of urgent watching
This Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, marks the start of a new liturgical year: the liturgical color changes from Ordinary time’s green to Advent’s purple, and the Sunday gospel readings change this year from Mark to Luke. As we experience the unfolding liturgical narrative and rituals, we journey with Jesus on the path from promise and incarnation to passion, death, and Easter. On this first Advent Sunday, the Lectionary asks RCIA participants and the believing community to be alert to the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies.
The first reading is from the prophet Jeremiah (627-585 BC), who called the Hebrews in Judah to interior conversion. In today’s passage, Jeremiah tells the people of Judah, who are being oppressed by the Babylonians, that God will send a descendant of David (“a just shoot”) to rule righteously (“do what is right and just”). Christians understand Jeremiah’s prophecy as fulfilled in Jesus’ incarnation, life, death, and resurrection.
The second reading is from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonica ekklesia–the oldest preserved Christian document, written in AD 50 or 51. Paul writes to the Thessalonians after hearing they need advice. This letter introduces one of his important themes: love (“abound in love for one another and all”). Paul also urges the Thessalonians to remain “blameless … before God” in anticipation of Jesus’ return, and to “conduct yourselves to please God.” That is, they should follow Jesus’ way of life in which Paul instructed them (“for you know what instructions we gave you.”)
The gospel continues the theme of fulfillment of the messianic prophecies. The reading is part of Jesus’ Jerusalem ministry, specifically Luke’s eschatological discourse (Lk 21:5-38). The discourse includes two ideas:
- The signs: Similar to Mark’s “little apocalypse” a few weeks ago, Luke’s Jesus prophecies about the end of this age (“signs in the sun, moon, and stars”) and the full realization of God’s kingdom (“your redemption is at hand”).
- The warning: Jesus warns his disciples to be “vigilant” and to “pray.” That is, the disciples should always be looking for the signs–not in fear, but in hope that God’s kingdom is about to be instituted fully. At this time the Son of Man will judge the whole world, deciding who is worthy to enter the kingdom. Those distracted by the “anxieties of life”–who haven’t persisted in discipleship–are not fit for the kingdom. Those who “have the strength”–who have lived as true disciples–will be invited into the kingdom.
As the new liturgical year begins, prophecies fill the Advent readings. They urge RCIA participants and the whole believing community to watch for Jesus’ comings: in the past, as Israel’s promised messiah; in the future, as the Son of Man who judges all people; and in the present moment, as God hidden and revealed in daily liturgy. Are we paying attention? Are we ready to stand before the Son of Man?