Here in the United States we are ending a holiday weekend during which we struggle as a nation to say “Thank you” to, well in the beginning of this celebration as a nation, it was to God. For many in our country thanks are given to cohorts, family members, and maybe the people who raised the turkeys. This giving thanks is a wonderful idea and practice. For a few minutes we look around and coming to our senses, we see persons for whom we tingle a bit with gratitude. We ponder personal gifts which form our personalities and history. We pause to catch our breath by reflecting upon those things which can take and have taken our breath away.
We are praying toward our celebrating a perfect Thanksgiving in the Eucharistic memorial. During these days leading up to Advent, we might all look around and sense what we bring to and what brings us to, the Eucharist.
As we will pray during the days of Advent about the grace of openness,
we might pray with the experiences of emptiness which are holy places.
We all bring our plenty and we bring our empty and we pray in thanksgiving
for both, if we know what’s good for us.
The four weeks of Advent begin with this First Reading from Isaiah. These verses are a protest of humility, praise, guilt and faith, all woven together. The Reading begins really in the verse before what we hear. The prophet announces the nations smallness, “Look down from heaven, look down from your holy and glorious dwelling.” “Do not let your compassion go unmoved, for you are our Father.” It is within this context that we hear our Advent truths.
We wander, harden our hearts so that we can not listen and yet for all our independence, we long for Your getting with our program. The prophet then schmoozes God a bit by reminding God of the awesome deeds done in the past that no eye or ear had ever sensed. Remember, the prophet is spinning a psalmful poem here.
A pledge is prayed then, if God were to come down, God might find us doing something good! As for now, God is angry, because the people have become dirty, and withered like the leaves of autumn. Guilt is everywhere.
This Reading is actually a poem and prophecy of hope. For all our sin and shame, You are still our God; we are still the clay and You the potter. “We are all the works of Your hands.” The Reading begins and ends with statements of confidence in which the prophet declaims that “We know Who You are and we have come to our knees knowing who we are as well.”
Our Gospel verses are taken from the ending of the chapter immediately before the Passion according to Mark. The whole chapter is about the “final days”. References are made during this chapter to the destruction of the temple, wars, earthquakes, famines, and betrayals leading up to the “end-time”. There will be great distress and darkness. Mark then has Jesus tell the parable about the fig tree. When the branches begin to have leaves we know that summer is coming. So when all these signs begin appearing, know that “He is near.”
We hear the ending of all of this in today’s Gospel. “Stay awake, be alert.” We do not know the when, exactly. Perhaps we know that when things are bad enough, or we are rebellious enough, or when we have all fallen asleep from the boredom of self-satisfying, then God will look down, call to mind divine compassion and begin again forming us from the clay which is our humanity.
A few years ago I attended a grade-school soccer game with my brother. His ten-year-old son was the goalie. We were standing right behind him. The strong wind was blowing from behind us and the field tilted away from us. Needless to say, the action was all down at the wind-blown other end. My nephew was leaning up against the goal post taking in the non-action. His dad is slightly more the excitable type. Soon enough he shouted to Paul, “Stay alert! Get ready?” Paul casually replied, “For what?” This was in the first half and when the sides switched for the second half, Paul was not quite ready enough as I recall. His dad blamed it on Paul’s first-half inattentiveness.
The Christmas action builds up during the second half of the Advent game. Christmas, like the illusive soccer ball, can get by us before we have time to respond. Now is the time to “get ready”, but for what?
We have an expression of impatience: “What are you waiting for, Christmas?” We are waiting for more than the celebration of the birth of Jesus. I know this sounds heretical and worse. Liturgically-speaking, we are preparing for that wonderful recalling of the Light come into our darkness. More deeply though, we are waiting for His taking birth in our stables, taking flesh in our persons. This is taking longer than we would like. Four weeks swishes by so fast and the tasty celebrations result in our becoming more flesh. We are being encouraged, beginning with this Gospel to come to our senses, stay awake, because Grace is always coming, the giving God is constantly making approaches to our defenses and life itself offers us gifts to be unwrapped if only we stay alert to their being offered.
As my nephew did in the second half, we are to let God in by being aware of just how we tend to defend against God’s many shots.
“The Lord will shower his gifts, and our land will yield its fruit.” Ps. 85, 13
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