First Sunday of Advent – Year A
All the readings for the Sundays of Advent contain themes of expectation in anticipation of the coming of the Lord at Christmas. The first reading from Isaiah gives an account of a vision experienced by the prophet. The title of the section indicates that the vision concerns the southern kingdom of Judah. The prophet sees a time in the future when all nations will come to recognise the Hebrew God and will pay God homage in the New Jerusalem.
The prophet is really seeing the messianic age in which God’s values of compassion, goodness and love will govern human behaviour. This is, in effect, the age of the Reign of God where justice and peace would rule.
When the messiah comes to bring in the Reign of God with its environment of peace and understanding then the weapons of war will be melted down to manufacture the tools of livelihood. It is interesting to note how aggression and war seem to be the outcomes of immaturity in the human psyche. There is something quite adolescent about the strike and payback syndrome that has blighted human society since the very beginning. The Nazis, in imitation of so many cultures before them, made a virtue of war and praised the qualities of the warrior whose ultimate aim was to crush another set of human beings. Today we see the same adolescent solutions being sought in an effort to resolve conflict. One wonders if a great nation like the USA is not unwittingly affected by its own Hollywood culture where the perceived bad guy always gets eliminated by the good guy. How many films have we all seen where the only solution for the villain is to have him killed by the hero? The insidious culture then spreads to an attitude that says: my problem will be solved if I eliminate my enemy. It would be a more mature, not to say Christlike procedure to work at reconciliation and the dismantling of those differences and inequalities that cause conflict. It seems that as a species we still have a lot of growing up to do and Isaiah implies that when we do, then the Reign of God will have a good chance of being fulfilled. Peace will replace conflict and war, and we will ‘walk in the light of the Lord.’
The responsorial psalm is a prayer for peace – peace on Jerusalem in particular and peace on the whole world in general. The idea is that the city that is sacred to the Lord, the city in which the Temple was a symbolic reminder of the presence of God among the people, should be a city of peace. After all, God is not a God of war but a God of peace.
The face we show to others should be the face of Jesus Christ
In the reading from the letter to the Christian community in Rome, written around 57 A.D., we meet a familiar metaphor of St. Paul. He often uses the expression ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ’. His idea is that as the newly baptized and committed Christian puts on the robe of innocence it is like putting on Christ Jesus.
In other words, when people see the Christian they should be reminded of Jesus himself. Our behaviour should reflect the fact that we are disciples of Jesus and our lives should radiate the light of goodness. The face we show to others should be the face of Jesus Christ.
In the verses preceding this extract Paul encouraged the Romans to allow their lives to be governed by love. He lists a number of the commandments and then goes on to say that if you love others you will fulfill all the laws. In fact, if we genuinely respected and loved others there would be no need for laws. Paul uses the language of ‘living according to the spirit’ and he is encouraging the Roman Christians to live the life of the spirit and walk in the light. As always he refers to Jesus as the example and the one to imitate.
There is a sense of urgency in Paul’s exhortation because he was convinced that the second coming of Christ was near at hand. The time of salvation was just around the corner, so it was important that people prepare themselves. This echoes the language of Jesus himself who was insistent that the disciple should always be ready to meet God and should live the kind of life that reflects this readiness.
The unreflected life is not worth living
The gospel reading from Matthew also stresses the need for vigilance as Jesus says we do not know the day or the hour of our reckoning. Jesus makes reference to the Genesis story of the Flood that occurred because human beings had become so evil that punishment was inevitable. The point Jesus makes is that people were so busy pursuing their own lives of self-indulgence and the satisfaction of their egos that they did not take time out to reflect on their behaviour and their goals. The philosopher Socrates said that the unreflected life is not worth living and the pursuit of short-term gratification does not make for growth and depth in the development of the self.
We see something of this in modern society where so many people seem to be living on automatic pilot, going through a series of routines and then wondering what they have really achieved. Dissatisfaction is inevitable if we don’t have goals to strive for and clarity about what we want and what values we adopt to achieve our goals. An endless spiral of unmindful routine can easily wind up in depression, which, along with anxiety, is one of our current world’s most prevalent sicknesses.
Jesus uses the analogy of the householder who is unaware that he is about to be burgled and so drops his guard and renders himself and his house vulnerable. It is the fool who drifts aimlessly through life, and it is equally the fool who lives only to satisfy material desires and ego. The implication of Jesus’ parable is that a life of mindfulness and clarity will keep us spiritually awake so that we will always be prepared to face our God.
Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its shortness. Jean La Bruyere
The wise man is never surprised by death. He is always ready to depart. Jean La Fontaine
Into the bar comes a grasshopper. And the bartender says, ‘Hey! We’ve got a drink named after you!’
The grasshopper replies, ‘Is that right? Why would anybody name a drink Bob?’