November 28, 2008

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 biblical readings from Year B of its three-year cycle. 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 very own worship into a closer relationship with God in Christ.

The liturgical readings are chosen to teach us about the Lord, to relay to us the Lord’s 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. The exiles had been allowed to return to the Holy Land from Babylon, but their return brought the exiles home to face considerable hardships rather than the life of paradise they had expected to find there. Daily 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.

The prophet appeals to God, in the name of the people, for relief. However, the prophet does not say that the people are being treated unfairly, at least in terms of God’s care for them. The prophet makes clear that sin has led the people away from God, and this estrangement has produced their present 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 the Christians at every side, they also argued among themselves. Paul had to call them to faithfulness, and also try to influence them to put their differences with each other aside.

He saw the disciples as having enormous religious potential, able to draw themselves more closely to God and also able to infuse the goodness of Christianity into the circles in which they moved in daily life.

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, but in this Second Coming the Lord will be the victor.

By the time the Gospels were written, even in the case of the Gospel of Mark, which is the oldest of the four Gospels 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 culture was an enemy. Soon the political system would be an enemy.

Problems, if not actual dangers, lay ahead for them. The atmosphere was tense, uncertain and frightening. Thoughts of the Second Coming naturally were appealing for the people.

The reading, quoting the Lord, reminds us that we, in fact, do not know the future. Life for anyone of us can change dramatically and suddenly.

However, the only permanent reality is God. If we are with God, then we need not be afraid of the future.


Advent is much more than a religious gloss over the hurry of preparing for Christmas. It is a call for personal conversion, a time of waiting that is intended 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 to confront ourselves with this reality as well as an opportunity to achieve this union with God.

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

If we respond to this opportunity, then Christmas becomes not just a national holiday, and not even just a religious commemoration, but the moment when we truly bring God into our lives, having prepared ourselves for this wondrous encounter. †

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