Imagine walking down Fifth Avenue; department store windows are filled with Christmas and winter scenes. Coming toward you is a man dressed in a brown wool coat with a collar and cuffs, a cotton shirt, vest, breeches, and leather shoes, the typical uniform of an American soldier during the Revolutionary War. Once beyond your initial surprise, you begin to wonder who he is and why is he here. If, however, the backdrop was not the 21st century but instead an open meadow in the 18th century filled with hundreds of other men similarly clothed, you would have fewer questions and a clearer understanding of his presence. This little exercise illustrating the importance of context, provides a path into the readings for the First Sunday of Advent.
The Gospel selection is nearing the climax of the journey of discovery on which Mark has taken his hearers. Shortly Jesus will be arrested, tried and executed. Prior to today’s gospel we hear Jesus privately instructing his disciples about the destruction of the Temple and the final in-breaking of God when God’s reign of justice, peace, mercy and reconciliation will be complete. As with all apocalyptic imagery, the scenes pictured are threatening and scary. Jesus’ advice is simple: be watchful and alert.
Isaiah’s distress and sorrowing conversation with God and Paul’s affirmation of the giftedness of the saints in Corinth can put the foreboding and anxiety in its proper context and us in our right relationship with Jesus Christ. Isaiah’s candor regarding the sinfulness and waywardness of the people is refreshing. We all miss the mark! But his confession of wrongdoing is complemented with his bold confidence that God is “for us,” desiring to give us the fullness of life even when our familiar, secure world is falling apart. The only adequate response in the face of this reality/mystery is to surrender to the shaping hands of the potter.
Paul in all his writings is vividly aware of our giftedness through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He knows well that we are capable of wrongdoing but the transformation brought about by being in Christ dominates his consciousness. In his letter to the Corinthians, he, like, Mark is looking to the end times and his counsel is simple, “He (God) will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful.”
It is trust in God’s promise and confidence in God’s faithfulness that will carry the day. This is true for the final coming of Jesus Christ (Parousia) and equally true for the many ways that God comes in our daily lives. Advent is a time to be alert and watchful for ways to prepare for the coming of God into our world and lives. An Advent practice that can keep us on our toes is to set aside some quiet time each day to be present to our God and allow our God, the potter, to shape our hearts and open our eyes.
Jean Flannelly, SC
After more than 35 years preparing men and women for ordained and lay ministry in the Church, Sister Jean currently ministers as pastoral associate at Mount Saint Vincent Convent and in adult spiritual/faith enrichment in Dutchess County.