The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!
Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.
Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Jesus said to his disciples, "For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an least expected hour."
What's another year? was the winning song at Eurovision long ago! Today we start another liturgical new year, with the songs of Isaiah heralding Advent. We begin a series that carries right through from Advent to Christmas, then on to Jesus' Public life; into Lent and the drama of Holy Week culminating in the celebration of Easter and then the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. On it goes till next Advent and the cycle begins for another year. What a gift to have this rhythm and pattern in our lives! It provides a general framework for all the bits and pieces of prayers, readings and intercessions during the different seasons. And so our lives go on.
And it goes on in this season of Advent with great expectations. Waiting with expectancy not just for the first coming of Jesus at Bethlehem but also for his second coming at the end of time! Before we had cell phones of skype we depended on the humble landline. I knew a mother whose son in New York faithfully rang his mother at eight o'clock every Sunday evening. As it neared the time her eyes were on the phone; no call in or out was allowed as she waited! She would not miss the joy of hearing her son's voice and all his news. A model of Advent waiting! The key attitude is one of being alert, being ready, so as not to miss the time of his coming, ‘you must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect'. Time was when those words sounded like a warning calculated to instil fear. A God ready to pounce and catch us off guard with our affairs not in order!
A little reflection reveals how incorrect such a reaction is. The coming of the Son of Man at the first Christmas was and is the best of good news. A gift beyond all gifts, a welcome gift beyond all our imaginings! It calls for rejoicing and gratitude. The appropriate emotion must be one, not of fear, but one of awe and wonder. ‘Is it true? and is it true, this most tremendous tale of all, a baby in an ox's stall? The Maker of the stars and sea become a child on earth for me, that God was man in Palestine and lives today in bread and wine' gives expression to the utter amazement of the poet. (John Betjamen)
Wander into that stable on the first Christmas night! See there a poor young woman with her man and a new baby. Retrace your steps to the holy city of Jerusalem and tell the priests what you saw. Tell them that helpless vulnerable baby is the Anointed One, the long awaited Messiah, the Son of God. They would tell you that you were out of your mind; they would tell you that you are blaspheming; they would tell you that God is not like that. They have studied the scriptures and they know God is not like that. But God is like that.
That is the surprise. The presence of God among us is not what we expect, not where we expect. That's how we miss it. As we begin the season of Advent we are warned not to miss it. Be alert. Be ready. Be awake and look in the most unlikely places. Look in the doorway where the homeless sleep. Look in the refugee camps. Look in the hospitals and the nursing homes. Not the most comfortable places and spaces! Look at the new born babies. Look at the wrinkled senior citizens. So wonderful to be alive wide-eyed like a child at the beginning of our new year of grace! Give it a heartfelt and expectant cead mile failte!
1. Advent tends to be swamped by Christmas music and Christmas noise. It should be a quiet time, where we step back to the fundamental experience of Israel, the experience of trustful waiting on the Lord's deliverance. It's a desert time, when we try to empty our minds of the clutter of the past and when our hearts learn from the Prophets what are the deepest needs in our lives. Advent reawakens hope and longing for a better future. Not just a secure financial future for me or you, but a future of Redemption for the entire people.
2. Beyond all the worries and impassioned debates of politics and economics today are two deep and growing threats that we don't like to think about. They are threats of an apocalyptic level worthy of the fearful language of today's Gospel. One of these is the threat of nuclear extinction. The other is the threat of climate catastrophe.
The nuclear threat declared itself suddenly in the inhuman demonstration of the new weapons' horrific power on the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and was confirmed when two superpowers faced each other armed with hydrogen bombs. Ever since then the world has been a hair-trigger away from total extinction, and there have been hundreds of times when we survived only by lucky hair-breadth escapes. Noam Chomsky posits divine intervention as the explanation of this remarkable record of good luck. The climate-change threat has grown slowly, like the slowly mounting waters of a tsunami, and awareness of it has been dulled by a culture of denial sustained by commercial interests. Registering the full extent of the danger one is inclined to cry, "Only God can save us now!" When a plastic-eating enzyme turned up recently, some were wondering if there were not after all a place for a "God of the gaps." In both cases we are tempted to ask, "How could God let his creation get into such a parlous state? Where is Providence in all this?"
3. The consoling hymns of Christmas hardly engage with these terrifying questions, That is why we need the more abrasive fare of the Prophets, who so often spoke in times of terrific crisis. The first words of most prophets are words of doom, their last words are words of consolation; the words of doom wake us up, shake us out of complacency and denialism, and the words of consolation are not a sentimental escape but recall the faithfulness of God and the power of his promise of Redemption. Their language chimes with our deepest fears and hopes, so deep that we are often unaware of them and blot them out with fuss about things that are of no account in the long run. (Joe O'Leary)