Old Testament: Isaiah (64:1-9)
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.
The Response: Psalm (80:1-7, 16-18)
1 Blessed be the God of Israel
who comes to set us free
and raises up new hope for us:
Branch from David’s tree.
So have the prophets long declared
that with his mighty arm
God would turn back our enemies
and all that wish us harm.
2 With promised mercy will God still
the covenant recall,
the oath once sworn to Abraham;
from foes to save us all;
that we might worship without fear
and offer lives of praise,
in holiness and righteousness
to serve God all our days.
3 My child, as prophet of the Lord
you will prepare the way,
to tell God’s people they are saved
from sin’s eternal sway.
Then shall God’s mercy from on high
shine forth and never cease,
to drive away the gloom of death
and lead us into peace.
The Epistle: Corinthians (1:3-9)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Gospel: Mark (13:24-37)
Jesus said, “In those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
0“Advent” is a word derived from the Latin verb “advenire,” meaning “to come to” or “to come into.” Advent is the time in which the church focuses on the coming of God. More specifically, it focuses on the two comings of Jesus. Later in this season, the emphasis will be on the approaching celebration of Jesus’ birth; but, here, at the beginning, it is on what is often called “the Second Coming,” a coming at the end of time.
In the worldview of the biblical era, God (or the gods) lived up above the sky; and the early Christians believed that that is where God had exalted Jesus. In today’s second reading and gospel, for example, when they pictured his return, they imagined it as a physical descent, accompanied by a great display of power and splendor. Few today would envision it that way, if they expect Jesus to return physically at all. Fewer and fewer people do as they choose, instead, to explore the meaning behind the image.
But, when you think about it, what difference does it make anyway? Maybe none, but maybe a lot — if we are willing to move away from a literal interpretation of the event and, instead, take a wider view of the entire biblical narrative. If we look at the scriptures as a whole, the various comings of God often stand center-stage. N.T. Wright has observed (Twelve Months of Sundays, Year B, p. 2): “Cut Christmas out of the Bible, and you lose three chapters… Try cutting Advent, and you lose half the Old Testament and most of the New. Jews and Christians have always, though in a wide variety of ways, lived within and by the story of God’s order appearing within the world’s confusion, God’s fiery light burning away the shadows.” The coming of God, in one context or another, in one way or another, is central to the bible and to people’s longing.
At the time of today’s first reading, taken from the third part of the book of Isaiah, the Jewish people had returned from a long exile in Babylon, only to find their nation in ruins, their temple gone, and their lives lived in constant poverty and in fear of their enemies, who were able to attack them at will. Their whole world had fallen apart. Recognizing their desperation and their helplessness, they cried out to God, basically as a last resort (Is 64:1): “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence.” Nothing but a radical, new beginning, maybe a new creation, could help them at this point; and so they called on the one who had created all things to come into the world and do it again.
Those who first heard the message of our second reading and gospel were likewise in what seemed to be a hopeless situation. Not only their nation but their entire lives were dominated by the brutal power of Rome; and it would not be long before the armies of the oppressor would march into their land, destroying nearly everything and slaughtering countless tens of thousands of people. It seemed that only a return to primordial chaos, when the sun and moon would be darkened and the stars would fall from heaven, could make the way for a new and life-giving creation.
Similar desperate times have recurred over and over again throughout human history. And a longing for the coming of God, a distressed crying out for help and healing, for a whole new beginning, has risen from those who find themselves trapped in chaos and confusion. And that might just include us as well.
There are times in life when we can find ourselves in a desperate situation. That sense can be brought on by the unexpected loss of a job, or by a life-stopping medical diagnosis, or by the death of a loved one. Suddenly, it seems like our whole world is falling apart, and we feel completely helpless to do anything about it.
It is then that the words of today’s readings, the words of Advent, can take on a deep, personal significance. There appear to be “Signs of endings all around us,” as our opening hymn (#721 in Wonder, Love, and Praise) puts it. And in our feeling of helplessness, we find ourselves crying out to a higher power, to the very creator and life of the universe, to come to help us, to rescue us. “Restore us, O Lord God of Hosts, show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved” (Ps 80:3,7,18).
Like those who came before us, we find ourselves longing for the coming of God, for the coming of a healing and life-giving renewal. We want someone to put things right and to start life over again. To put it a different way, we find ourselves longing for Advent.
But while Advent is a time of endings, it is even more a time of new beginnings. It is, in many ways, the most hopeful season of the church’s year. Unlike those who first heard the words of today’s readings, we know the ending of the Advent story. Spoiler alert: God does come. God does make new beginnings. God does bring healing and new life.
But God doesn’t do it alone. God never has. The story of the scriptures, both Old Testament and New, is the story of the God who works in and through God’s human partners, that is, through us. God, as it were, enters into our lives in new ways, takes us by the hand, raises us up, and encourages us, “Come with me, and we will walk through this crisis and out the other side together. Together, we will make a new beginning.”
Because Christmas comes this year on a Monday, this year’s Advent season lasts just 22 days: the shortest it can ever be. But in another sense, Advent is the longest of seasons, because we live our entire lives in Advent. We and the rest of the world along with us are always waiting for the coming of God.
But that waiting can never allow us to take a passive “just sit back and let God come and fix everything” approach. Instead, Advent calls us to an active waiting: to a waiting in which we are working, as next Sunday’s first reading will remind us, to “prepare the way of the Lord” (Is 40:3). For God has entrusted to us the great honor and awesome responsibility of being God’s co-makers of a new creation. Or, as St. Augustine once summarized the message: “We without God cannot, and God without us will not.”