shall beat their swords into plowshares
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First Week of Advent
Sunday is the beginning of a new liturgical year with the First Sunday of Advent. The first reading from the Book of Jeremiah offers a comforting promise of safety to beleaguered Israel: “those days Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure.” Luke's gospel offers us a repeat of several of the daily gospels, advising us to be alert and vigilant, watching for signs. “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”
Monday is the Memorial of Saint Francis Xavier, the legendary Jesuit missionary. Friday is the Memorial of Saint Ambrose, bishop and doctor of the Church. Saturday is Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with its own special readings.
During the first part of Advent - until December 17 - we focus on the first reading. This week it is from the Prophet Isaiah. These readings are about promises. Isaiah is consoling, building up and preparing his people to have hope. “In the days to come,” he says over and over. When the day of promise comes, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” Even though King David's line, and that of his father, Jesse, are almost wiped out, Isaiah proclaims hope: “On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” Who would believe even a peace in nature - lion lying down with the lamb? “There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea.” God's unique ways of favoring the poor, which Mary comes to know and proclaims in her Magnificat, are seen when Isaiah says, “He humbles those in high places, and the lofty city he brings down; He tumbles it to the ground, levels it with the dust.” Even Jesus' own statement about his mission is seen in the powerful images Isaiah uses to give us courage and hope: “On that day the deaf shall hear ... the eyes of the blind shall see ... the lowly will ever find joy in the LORD ... ” “On the day the LORD binds up the wounds of his people.”
The gospels for this first part of Advent are chosen from several gospels. They are meant to match the first readings and to show that the promises are fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus brings healing. He raises up the childlike. And Jesus calls and sends the twelve apostles to continue his ministry.
“Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever.” Those words from Baruch are in the first reading for the Second Sunday of Advent. Luke's Gospel offers us a first look at the promise of John the Baptist as he cries out, “Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
Daily Prayer This Week
Despite all of the distractions at this time of year, we really can focus on Advent during these weeks. We seem to get very busy, and at times have to go to a number of social events or wrestle with budgets and shopping, but the heart of this season is all about expectant hope. So, we begin our Advent journey by giving ourselves some time - just a few minutes each day - to reflect on how much God promises us.
Each morning this week, while we are first coming to consciousness, we can name a desire, name an emptiness or feeling of anxiety or worry that we can feel. It is into the raw places in our lives such as these, that our Lord came to be with us. So, this week, we can begin to invite our Lord to be Incarnate in our lives, in the places we need him the most.
Our goal this week is to let ourselves feel like those to whom the promises of our God are made. We want to get in touch with ourselves, especially those parts of ourselves that are in need of a Savior. We do this by keeping our focus on the places that feel like a desert, the places that feel like we've been through a war, the places that feel like a lifeless stump. When we have a hard time seeing, we ask for the grace to be able to believe the promise that we shall see. When we seem deaf, we place our trust in the One who assures us that we will hear. And when we feel beaten down and awfully lowly, we turn to the One who promises that we will “find joy in the Lord.” And, who among us doesn't have days on which we are aware of various kinds of wounds? On the day of promise, “the Lord binds up the wounds of his people.”
As we let these deep realities of our daily, busy lives come into focus and interact with the readings, something wonderful happens. We become more and more aware of our need for God. Very naturally and quite spontaneously, a prayer comes forth from deep within us, which we can say in the smallest moments of our busiest days. “Come, Lord.” “Come and save me.” “Come and be with me in all of these messy, empty, dry and disordered places in my life.” “Come, Lord. I feel my longing for you grow. I feel my hope grow. And, as I place my hope in your promises, Advent begins to come alive in me.”
of this preparation can happen in the simplest way, before the first
Christmas decoration goes up. And, for each moment of each day that
we encounter a place that we desire, that we long for our Lord's coming,
we can express our thanksgiving. Each night we might pray:
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