Advent Is Calling!
Advent is a season that makes demands on our attentiveness. It is a time for us to pay attention to the ways in which the Divine beckons us.
Isaiah 63:16b–17, 19b; 64:2–7
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.
Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.
1 Corinthians 1:3–9
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 dis course 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. Watch, therefore; 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!’”
Understanding the Word
The Isaiah reading comes from the post-Exilic period, when Israel’s hopes for restoration remained unfulfilled. Years after their return to the ancestral land, God’s people remained under foreign rule and suffered agricultural, economic, and social difficulties, which many took as a sign that Israel remained under divine judgment. Thus the lament and communal confession in the reading, which features reminders of the deliverance from Egypt. God is Israel’s father (Exodus 4:22) and redeemer, an enduring reality that is the basis for the present hope in God’s fidelity. As in the past, Israel’s heart is hardened, but confession opens up the possibility of God’s saving return. As in the past God came to Israel as redeemer, so now Israel hopes to receive mercy again.
Paul begins his First Letter to the Corinthians by reminding them that they have been “sanctified in Christ Jesus” and are called to be holy (1:2). Paul gives thanks that they do indeed show signs of having received God’s grace in the form of spiritual knowledge and gifts. These manifestations of God’s grace are also confirmation of the truth of the gospel that Paul had preached to them (the “testimony to Christ”). These divine gifts also reveal God’s fidelity and desire to keep the Corinthians faithful as they persevere during this time of waiting. It is God who has called them to fellowship with Christ and it is God who will give them what they need to be faithful.
Jesus’ warning to his disciples is essentially an exhortation to avoid spiritual procrastination, putting off ultimate concerns because one perceives there is plenty of time to “take care of things” like repentance or growth in virtue. Just previous to this reading, Jesus had informed his disciples that only the Father knows when the end will come (13:32), which means it is pointless and dangerous to hope there will be time to get one’s house in order. When the Lord decides to come, those who have persuaded themselves they can delay their repentance or ignore their obligations to God and neighbor will be found “asleep.” Jesus leaves it to his audience to imagine the fate of those found asleep by the “man traveling abroad” when he returns.
Reflecting on the Word
She stokes the fire and stirs the logs so that they get more air. From upstairs, she hears the breathing machine, whirring in and out, bringing oxygen to the one she loves. She cannot see the air around the logs. She cannot see the oxygen in the machine. But she is continually attentive to its movement. It is always there. It is always moving. Something could happen. She needs to be ready.
He is chopping onions, humming a tune. A pan lid clangs. A grunt sounds as a diaper plops to the floor. From the corner of his eye, he sees movement and then feels a tug on his pant leg. He reaches down to lift his beloved onto his hip. He slides vegetables into the skillet. The toddler is always there. He is always moving. His dad is continually attentive to his noises, alert to his motion. Something could happen. He needs to be ready.
For Israel, the Lord is always present, always active, always moving. The prophet Isaiah is alert to that invisible motion. He pleads to the Redeemer who has been faithful in the past, for his people are at risk: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!” Today’s psalmist begs, “Come, come to save us!” The divine “you” is constantly in Israel’s awareness as their enduring reality: always present, continually moving, forever acting.
It may not be the noise of the breathing machine in Mary Oliver’s poem “Oxygen.” It may not be the crawling boy in my son’s kitchen. But you and I, we too may have seasons of hyper-alertness at the edge of consciousness. In situations that carry some risk, we are ready.
Jesus alerts us today: The One we love is here. Something is happening. Be attentive. Watch!
- Consider the times in your own life when you have had that attentiveness at the edge of consciousness. What was the situation? Who was the beloved? What was the risk?
- Like the oxygen that continually flows within us, the Spirit of God breathes in our lives right now. Like the toddler crashing pan lids around us, the Spirit is active and moving in this world. As we begin anew this Advent, how can we allow the grace of God to cultivate within us a livelier attentiveness to this divine movement?
Living and Praying with the Word
Savior of the world, you are the Prince of Peace. We are not at peace. We feel some risk. You have always been faithful to us. We are not always faithful to you. As we move into Advent, bring us to deeper conversion. You ask us to be more aware of your presence. You are here. You are active. You are always moving in our lives. Thank you for rescuing us in our past. We trust you to take care of our future. O come, Emmanuel. Come and save us!