November 29, 2017 // The Sunday Gospel
Prepare your hearts for when the Lord returns
First Sunday of Advent
This weekend the Church begins Advent. It also is the start of a new liturgical year. Each liturgical year is carefully planned so that the seasons and the major feasts guide us, through worship, into a closer relationship with God in Christ.
The first reading is from the third section of Isaiah, composed when the Jews were in a quite difficult situation. Years before, the exiles had been allowed to return to the Holy Land from Babylon, but this return brought the exiles home to no paradise. Life was miserable.
The prophet called for faith in God, not only because He is almighty, but because He is unrelentingly true to the covenant, to the divine pledge that He would protect the chosen people.
The prophet appealed to God, in the name of the people, for relief, but without saying that the people were being treated unfairly — at least in terms of God’s care for them. The prophet made clear that sin led the people away from God. This estrangement has produced their woes.
Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians provides the next reading. Counseling the Christians of Corinth was a challenge for Paul. Not only did temptation and vice surround them at every side, but they argued among themselves. Paul had to call them to faithfulness, and he had to try to influence them to put their differences with each other aside.
He saw disciples as having enormous religious potential, despite all odds produced by their surroundings and the human inclination to sin; able, by themselves, to draw more closely to God, and to infuse the goodness of Christianity into the circles in which they moved.
St. Mark’s Gospel is the source of the last reading. It offers us a theme found quite often in the New Testament; namely, that Christ will come to earth again. In this second coming, the Lord will be the great victor and the judge of all creation.
By the time the Gospels were written, even in the case of the Gospel of Mark, the oldest of the four as they now exist, Christians were numerous enough. They were geographically distributed enough to catch the public eye, but not numerous enough or powerful enough to stand against their enemies. The culture was an enemy. Soon, the political system would be an enemy.
Being a Christian became a capital crime, as the martyrs were horribly to know. Understandably, the atmosphere was tense, uncertain and frightening. Thoughts of the second coming naturally were appealing. Jesus will come again, but we know not when. We, in fact, do not know the future.
We, in the meantime, must acknowledge God, live in God’s law and trust in our reward. If we are with God, we need not fear.
The formal prayers of the Mass are the united statements of all believers, spoken through and by the celebrant, to proclaim our faith but also our trust in Almighty God.
We speak with the priest in our faith and worship, but are we sincere? Are we good Catholics? Does the priest praying the orations at Mass represent our genuinely authentic faith, our absolute commitment to Christ?
Mark’s Gospel greatly assists us in forming solid faith. Only God is permanent and real.
Advent is an opportunity to achieve union with God, to realize that God’s love for us is real.
If we respond to the opportunity given to us by Advent, then Christmas becomes not a national holiday, or even a holy religious commemoration, but the moment when we encounter God, firmly believing that Jesus will come again — but also believing that here and now, we know the Lord.
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