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Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down

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November 27, 2011

By Terrance Callan

First Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37

With this Sunday we begin the season of Advent, our time of preparation for the coming of Christ.


During this time, we prepare to celebrate Christmas and remember God’s preparation of the people of Israel for the birth of Jesus. We also prepare for the coming of Christ into our lives each day, and especially for the coming of Christ at the end of time, which will bring our salvation to completion. The readings for the first Sunday of Advent show the connections among these different forms of the coming of Christ.


The reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah expresses the hope of Israel for a powerful manifestation of God in their midst. “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as they had not heard of from of old.” 


Without such a manifestation of God, the people of Israel have wandered from the ways of God and become sinful.  But if God would come into their midst, they could be faithful to God.


This hope was partly fulfilled by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In Jesus, God did come into our midst. However, He did not come in the powerful, unmistakable way envisioned by Isaiah. Instead, He came in surprising weakness, hidden so that many have not seen the presence of God in Jesus. And even we, who have seen it, share the longing of Israel for a glorious manifestation of God in our midst. This longing will be fulfilled when Jesus comes at the end of time in the glory of the kingdom of God.


The reading from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians consists of the greeting and the thanksgiving prayer with which Paul begins the letter  In this prayer Paul thanks God for the gifts of speech and knowledge the Corinthians have received. These are spiritual gifts God has given them in Jesus; they are signs of the presence of Jesus among the Corinthians right now.  Nevertheless, the Corinthians need to wait for the revelation of the Lord Jesus, i.e., His coming in glory at the end of time.


The reading from the Gospel according to Mark speaks exclusively of Jesus’ coming at the end of time. This is the conclusion of a speech found in Mark 13, in which Jesus predicts His coming at the end of time. In this part of the speech, He urges His disciples to be ready for His coming at all times, since they do not know exactly when He will come. Jesus illustrates this by comparing the situation of His followers to that of a gatekeeper in a house whose owner is out of the country. Since the gatekeeper does not know when the owner of the house will return, “in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning,” the gatekeeper must always be ready if he does not want the owner to find him asleep. Jesus ends by saying, “What I say to you, I say to all:  Watch!”


On this first Sunday of Advent, the church reminds us of the coming of Jesus in the past and urges us to be alert, watchful for the presence of Jesus in our lives now, and ready to greet Him when He comes again in glory.

Callan is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.

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