Setting the Tone for Advent

Dec 3, 2017: 1st Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 63:16-17, 19
Psalms 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
First Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:33-37
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Today we reset the narrative that we follow throughout the liturgical year and begin the first liturgical season of a new liturgical year: Advent. Today’s readings help us to set the right tone for this season.

In today’s First Reading Isaiah articulated the feeling of abandonment to sin on the part of Israel, unfaithful and fallen, and desire that the Lord return to them and set things right, no matter what the consequences. Israel, through Isaiah’s lips, is tired of the long, lonely night of sin. They have turned from the Lord’s path and not heeded Him, as they should. The Lord has rescued them many times, and, even now, they call upon Him as their “redeemer” hoping He will work similar wonders for them as He did for their forefathers. They also acknowledge that the Lord will redeem them if He comes and finds them striving to change; the redeemer responds to our efforts at righteousness. Those who are indifferent to the Lord and His ways will never find them, but Israel today shows regret for what it has done or failed to do. Advent is a time for us to regret one of the big reasons for Our Lord’s First Coming at Christmas: our sins and His desire to redeem us from them. It commemorated the time of penance before the coming of Christ when man was lost and fallen, so that when our Redeemer comes we welcome Him with even more joyous expectation.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that with the coming of Jesus Christ the lament of Isaiah in the First Reading has been heard. Christ has come and redeemed us, and now, this Advent; we await Him to come again at Bethlehem. St. Paul reminds us of all the spiritual gifts Our Lord has showered upon us thanks to His First Coming. We live Advent already redeemed. We know how the story ends, even though with the Advent season we return to the first part of the narrative when a fallen man was lost in sin and without hope. St. Paul today may be speaking of the Second Coming, but his words remind us that every Advent season is an opportunity for Our Lord to come into our hearts and reveal himself in a special way, building on the spiritual gifts we have already received. Advent, in expectation for Christmas, should not be lived in a spirit of “what have you given me lately?”, but, rather, recalling all that Our Lord has given us, along with the hope that He will continue to lavish His spiritual gifts on us.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord establishes the tone for Advent, even though He is speaking of the Second Coming: vigilant expectation. The Lord first came in a way that nobody expected. Isaiah today was hoping the Lord would come and make mountains quake, but Our Lord was born a baby in a cave instead, hidden to most of the world. Many knowledgeable people in the Lord’s time were clueless about the time and way in which He was coming. It reminds us that many times God is not someone we figure out, but Someone who reveals himself to us. We know how the story ends, so there is no spoiler alert needed, but every liturgical season presents us with an opportunity to keep our eyes open so that we recognize when the Lord sends some special insight or grace our way. In a conversation where we get distracted, we sometimes miss something the other person was saying. Advent is a moment for giving the Lord our undivided attention so he can guide us to a better life. He wants to have a conversation with us this season.

The liturgical color of Advent, except for one Sunday, is purple, and it is no coincidence that we use the same liturgical color for Advent and Lent. During Advent, we commemorate humanity lost in sin for millennia (at least) before the coming of Christ. Advent commemorates an extended period of sorrow and suffering for humanity. Every time we see that purple, we should remind ourselves what life was like before the coming of Christ, and what it would be like today without Him. Advent provides an opportunity to do just that.

Everyone faces the temptation of fast-forwarding their attention and concern to Christmas, and many times that takes them off track, focusing on shopping and family logistics instead of the Reason for the Season. Advent is an opportunity for each of us to meditate on the Reason for the Season and help others to do so as well (hint: the Reason is not presents, despite what your children tell you). It is a time for reflecting on our sins and asking Our Lord to continue to redeem us from them. If there’s some point of spiritual growth with which we are struggling, Advent is a time not only to work on it but also to pray unceasingly for the Lord’s help in overcoming it. If we have become estranged from someone we love (or loved), we can ask Our Lord to help us to become reconciled. Shopping and family logistics are a reality of this season, but they also provide a spiritual opportunity to go out of our way for others. The entire organizing, planning, budgeting, wrapping, etc. is to express your love for someone; and in loving others, you love Jesus Christ. Don’t forget to include something for someone who may have no one to love him or her.

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