November 27, 2016
The First Sunday in Advent
Donna G. Joy
Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44
Happy New Year! Indeed, this is the beginning of a new liturgical year.
This particular season is primarily about preparing for the advent (the arrival) of Christ; the advent of Christ in our lives, our church, our world... And yet, it is also interesting to note that each year as we begin this season of Advent – this season of preparation – at this moment in history... Our Gospel each year tends to focus on the end times... Our Gospel each year tends to focus on Christ’s second coming... sometime in the future... at a time we do not yet know...
This begs the question, “during this Season of Advent, as we prepare for the coming of Jesus into our lives, our church, our world ... how does this connect with the second coming of Jesus at some - as yet - unknown time in the future?”
Ann Garrido, who designed the Master’s program I am currently participating in, suggests that, “We don’t know when that day will be. As today’s gospel passage from Matthew warns, no one knows. But what we do know is that Christ’s Second Coming has something to do with our response to Christ’s first coming. It has something to do with whether we are truly living into our vocation as the Body of Christ in our time.”
So, today I am suggesting that we focus on the question, “What is our response to Christ’s first coming?” And, as we focus on this question, I am suggesting we acknowledge that a good response to Jesus’ first coming involves following His example of living as pilgrims, working toward justice and peace.
And, as we turn to our reading from Isaiah, along with our Psalm, we find some wonderful clues as to what this looks like. In Isaiah... The prophet is addressing the city of Jerusalem prior to their time in exile. The people have completely lost their way... they are consumed with national pride, self-indulgence, and self-serving ways.
In this reading we have heard a ‘poem’, identified as a ‘word,’ that the prophet Isaiah has received and is sharing with the people. It is, in fact, a vision, an act of imagination that looks beyond present concerns through the eyes of God, to see what will be that is not yet.
The promise proceeds by making a sharp contrast between what is and what will be. Against that present shabbiness, the prophet imagines a majestic future. NOT a future that anticipates a triumph for Jerusalem of political-religious grandeur. Quite the contrary! It is the place of God’s presence in the “house;” that is, the Temple. The prophet’s vision is a profoundly theological vision, that is, a vision that is fixed on God.
So the heart of the message here is the promise of God’s presence in the Temple, yet the fuller message is where that gift of God’s presence will take them. It will take them on a journey... a journey that begins with God’s presence in the Temple, and leads them to the Torah. They will be not only in God’s presence, but they will be engaged in God’s purpose.
In a daring anticipation, the prophet foresees a time when the Torah will be made manifest through the very lives of the people. It is not enough for the people to simply worship in the Temple; their lives must reflect the call to justice and peace that is found in the Torah. As the lives of the people are transformed by the teaching of the Torah, this message of justice and peace will – in turn – transform the world.
As followers of Jesus, we believe that Jesus fully embodies this vision; we believe that Jesus leads us on a pilgrimage to/through worship where we discover the presence of God, and calls us to live lives that are committed to justice and peace. We are called here to be in God’s presence, so that we may be engaged in God’s purpose. As we focus on the question, “What is our response to Christ’s first coming...” we are called to search for ways in which we are succeeding in living our lives as pilgrims, committed to justice, which is essential for the coming of peace.
And this focus is carried over into our Psalm, where this theme of pilgrimage, justice, and peace is also evident. Here the Psalmist presents himself as a pilgrim to the Temple in Jerusalem, and while the entirety of this Psalm is rich and full, I am focusing here particularly on verses 6-9 where the Psalmist is specifically praying for peace. As we reflect on this today, we are only too aware of the many ways in which we need to pray for peace in our lives, our church, our world today.
As we begin this new liturgical year with this First Sunday in Advent, it is important to look closely, and take seriously, the prophet Isaiah along with the Psalmist’s reminder that justice leads to peace. Only in the presence of justice – that is, a commitment to the well-being-within-community (globally and locally)... only in the presence of justice can peace be present.
With this in mind, then, God’s hope for peace is, in reality, God’s hope that men and women, each of us here today, take seriously our mutual responsibility to care about each other and the world in which we live. God’s hope for peace is God’s hope that the members of the human family institute those initiatives by which the hungry are fed and the naked clothed, as well as those initiatives which help to enable persons to be all that God intended for them at creation. Today, on this First Sunday in Advent, as we enter into a new liturgical year and a sacred season which prepares us for the coming of Christ, there is an expectation that we reflect seriously about how we live our lives, and how our lives embody the justice to which we are called. This is a time to reflect on our day to day relationships. Are we treating others with love and respect? Are we engaged in the hard work of forgiveness? This is a time to reflect on how we manage the gift of time. Are we allowing sufficient time to care for those who would benefit from our compassion? Particularly at this time of year, this is a time to reflect on where we spend our money. Are we, wherever possible, supporting both local merchants and artisans world-wide through fair trade organizations such as 10,000 Villages. As Christians, the small decisions and the large decisions we make, each and every day must be rooted in God's justice, made known in Jesus... decisions that, one step at a time, lead to the peace that is both God's dream, and God's plan.
Indeed, as the people of God long to fulfill that plan for peace throughout the season of Advent (or any other season throughout the year), we are reminded that the achievement of that peace rests, in large measure, on the human commitment to justice.
So, today, on this First Sunday of Advent, we prepare to remember a birth that occurred 2,000 years ago; we prepare to become the cradles in which that birth is placed and the wombs through which that birth enters into the world; and we anticipate a time when Christ will come again. And again, as Ann Garrido reminds us, “... Christ’s Second Coming has something to do with our response to Christ’s first coming. It has something to do with whether we are truly living into our vocation as the Body of Christ in our time.” Thirteenth century mystic Meister Eckhart asks the question, “What good is it that Christ was born two thousand years ago, if he is not born now in your heart?” Ann Garrido concludes her reflection with these words, “Indeed, it is misleading to speak of Christ’s Second Coming for in reality what we are waiting for ‘is the fulfillment of his one coming which is still in progress at the present time...’” (Karl Rahner)
As the fulfillment of Jesus’ coming continues to remain – in each of you – a work in progress at this present time, how might you seek justice in ways that will lead to peace?
Come, Lord Jesus, and be born in our hearts this Advent season.