Isaiah 63:16-17, 19
Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
So as to be more receptive to the hearing of the Word and the celebration of the Eucharist, imagine Jesus standing at the station waiting for the next train of camels to come along. He gives them some tasks to do while he is gone. He tells them also to keep a sharp eye for his return. Camel trains did not run on a regular schedule, so they will have to be aware of what they are doing as well as his time of arrival.
The disciples look at each other with wonderment. Who will tell them how they should act and when they are doing things right or wrong? This all seems rather sudden and they do not seem prepared for his leaving and yet Jesus is telling them to be prepared for his return.
We light the first candle of the Advent wreath today and begin the season of “spectation.” There is no suggestion of a theme of darkness and light in our readings, but the wreath is most likely circular, that is, having a hole or empty space as its center.
We are invited to pray with longing for fullness. Perhaps the one candle can at least illumine that holy hole. Nature does resist a vacuum and our hearts have natural longings and emptinesses. These holes are holy, because God alone can fill them.
We can pray these days quite specifically with our every-day experiencing of our peering into those vacancies and resist trying to fill them or look away.
Advent is a truly Christian time. Promises have been made and we are those who wait, watch, worry, occasionally whine and ultimately trust. These are Advent prayers. We hear some good whimpering in today’s First Reading. It is very helpful to know exactly about what we are complaining and then be alert and watchful for how God prays with us and our grumblings. Only God does not complain; the rest of us take up much of our time perfecting the skill. We are invited during Advent to taste our emptiness and not discard it like a used paper cup. The hole in the wreath is a holy space, a kneeling place.
We tune in on an Emergency 911 call from the Prophet Isaiah to God in our First Reading today. There has been some serious straying from God’s ways and we hear some serious confessing to go with it. Then while reminding God about the divine identity, the whining begins, or is it praying? Hard to tell sometimes.
The whole reading is somewhat of a yes-no, or we-are and we-aren’t and as for God, once God is angry and then is “father.” The Prophet seems to be looking first at one side and then turns it all over. Ultimately, God is the potter and we are the clay. We want to be found by God while we are doing good things, but “we are all the work of your hands.”
The verses we hear in today’s Gospel are taken from an entire chapter dedicated to Jesus’ telling his disciples about the “coming distractions.” It is fortunate for our spirits that we do not hear the whole chapter. It deals with events of disasters and wars and terrible natural misfortunes of which we read and hear every day. We should pray often for peace and justice in this world, but for this First Sunday we are invited to pray about his coming in the midst of all these.
It is a bit strange that while we are praying to prepare for his coming, Jesus is speaking about his leaving. The disciples are reminded that they have tasks to do and a basic attitude of watchfulness to preserve.
After hearing about all the horrific things which are going to take place it will seem that God has abandoned them and all. It is helpful to remember that this Gospel by Mark was written for a community in Rome under tremendous persecution. This particular chapter is an encouragement to the members to stay faithful by staying busy yet prayerful. These are verses for those who assume that faith in Jesus allows a subtraction from human misery and natural discouragement. Watching and staying alert are invitations to keep praying and staying attentive to the news around us and the spirit within us.
I have a friend who when leaving a group, while heading for the door will say, “It may appear as if I were leaving.” It always makes people laugh. Jesus is saying the same thing to us. Pain, troubles, worries, confusion and all other kinds of natural, physical and spiritual sufferings can move us to feel alone and even abandoned. There are all these terrible things going on in our world and our lives these days and we can hear Jesus say, “It may appear that I am leaving.” What we pray with these days of Advent is “He may appear” at any time, no, at every time if we have the faith-eyes to hold on and hold out. There just are times when the promised green of the Advent wreath and the candles of light are not as visible as the darkness of the empty hole. For some of us, waiting and watching is what life is. Faith is the believing in the promised and the Promiser.
The grass, bushes and trees in our part of the world speak to us of the passing and the approaching. Advent for us comes at a great time of nature. It is darkening and nothing is growing except our “spectation” of Jesus’ promised arrival at a time we do not have in our date books. Is the empty really empty or full of promise?
“The Lord will shower his gifts, and our land will yield its fruit.”Psalm 85
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