November 28, 2014

First Sunday of Advent / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThis weekend, the Church begins Advent. It also begins the use of Scripture readings from Year B of its three-year cycle of Sunday Mass readings.

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 our common worship into a closer relationship with God in Christ.

The liturgical readings are chosen to teach us about the Lord, to relay to us his message and to make us better aware of God’s mercy for us as humanity and for us individually.

The first reading is from the third section of Isaiah. When it was composed, the Jews were in a quite difficult situation. After having been exiled for decades to Babylon, they had just been allowed to return to the Holy Land. But this return brought them home to no paradise. Life was miserable.

The prophet called for faith in God, not only as almighty, but as true to the covenant, to the belief that God would protect the Chosen People.

Isaiah appeals to God for relief in the name of the people. However, the prophet does not say that the people are being treated unfairly, at least in terms of God’s care for them. Isaiah makes clear that sin has led the people away from God, and that this estrangement has produced their woes.

St. 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 on all sides, but also they argued among themselves. Paul had to call them to faithfulness. He sought to persuade them to put aside their differences with each other.

He saw disciples as having enormous religious potential, able themselves to draw more closely to God and also able to infuse the goodness of Christianity into the broader social 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, however, the Lord will be the victor.

When the Gospels were written, even in the case of the Gospel of Mark, arguably the oldest of the four as they now exist, Christians were numerous enough, and geographically distributed enough, to catch the public eye. Yet they were not numerous enough to be able to stand against their enemies. The prevailing culture was an enemy. Soon, the political system would be an enemy.

Problems, if not dangers, lay ahead. The atmosphere was tense, uncertain and frightening. Thoughts of the second coming naturally were appealing. Jesus’ words reminded the early Christians that they did not know the future. Life for them could change dramatically and suddenly.

The message was clear. The only permanent reality is God. If anyone truly is with God, there is no need to fear.

Reflection

Advent is much more than a religious gloss over the rush of preparing for Christmas. It is a call for personal conversion, to bring Christ into our hearts and lives.

Using Mark’s Gospel, it builds on the belief that nothing else is as permanent or as important as the reality of God and the reality of our need to be one with God in Christ.

Advent is an opportunity for us to encounter this reality, an opportunity to experience this union with God.

The busy nature of the season merely serves to remind us to sharpen our focus.

If we respond to this opportunity, then Christmas becomes not a national holiday, not even a religious commemoration, but a moment when we allow God to come more fully into our lives, having prepared ourselves for this wondrous encounter. †

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