1st Sunday of Advent, cycle B

Let us pray with St. Irenaeus…

It is not you that shapes God,

it is God who shapes you.

If then you are the work of God,

await the hand of the artist

who does all things in due season.

Offer God your heart,

soft and tractable,

and keep the form in which the artist has fashioned you.

Let your clay be moist,

lest you grow hard

and lose the imprint of God’s fingers.  AMEN

1st Reading:  Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7

From commentator Roger Karban:  Today’s Third-Isaiah reading only makes sense when we understand that our biblical writers believed people thought with their hearts, not their minds. So when the prophet accuses his people of “hardening their hearts to Yahweh,” he’s actually charging them with closing their minds to Yahweh. Since they don’t expect anything from God, they don’t even think about God. Though Third-Isaiah knows Yahweh is on the verge of helping those recently released from the Babylonian Exile, God can only do what people permit God to do. Anticipation of God’s actions plays a big role in experiencing God’s actions.  Isn’t that part of what Advent is…waiting in joyful expectation of what God is going to do in our lives?

This reading may make us feel we’ve got to try harder, do more.  But the reading ends with a different message.  We are to be clay.  We are to allow God to work on us.  So it is more a message of surrender.  Allowing.  Letting God in.  Gerald May describes the difference between willfulness and willingness.  Willfulness is the setting of oneself apart from the fundamental essence of life in an attempt to master, direct, control, or otherwise manipulate existence.  Willingness implies a surrendering of one’s self-separateness, an entering-into, an immersion in the deepest processes of life itself.  Willingness is saying yes to the mystery of being alive in each moment.  Willfulness is saying no, or perhaps more commonly, “Yes, but…”.  Both reflect the attitude we have toward the wonder of life itself  (Will and Spirit, p. 6).  How might an attitude of willingness be helpful as we walk toward Christmas?

2nd Reading:  1 Corinthians 1:3-9

From Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series:  There are 3 things that stand out in this passage of thanksgiving:

  1. A promise which came true.  Paul preached Christianity to the Corinthians and said Christ could do certain things for them.  He proudly claims that all has come true.
  2. A gift has been given.  Paul uses a favorite word of his, charisma, which means a gift freely given to someone.  It comes through salvation and through whatever special skills we may need in life to be the most of who we are.
  3. There is an ultimate end.   If we are clothed in Christ, we have nothing to fear.

How might how “willingness” help us live our lives as Paul sees the Corinthians doing?  Might it help us live in gratitude like Paul?

Gospel Reading:  Mark 13:33-37

From commentator Roger Karban again:  Mark’s Jesus directs his call for watchfulness to a community still expecting an imminent Parousia. Yet the command to be alert goes far beyond just looking for Jesus’ Second Coming. The story he tells demonstrates how constantly being on guard is an essential part of our faith. As servants of the risen Jesus, we never know when the “master” is going to break into our lives.  If we’re not continually attentive, we’ll miss what, as Jesus’ servants, we’ve been uniquely trained to experience.  How do we do this?

When someone we care for travels abroad, we wait with HOPE for their return.  So there is an eagerness in our watching.  We are looking for good to happen.  “Like the seed long since sown in springtime, God’s inward arrival comes through unobtrusively and slowly, but with terrific force, and becomes manifest in all the seeming banality of our lives,”  (M. Birmingham, W&W Worksbook, cycle B, p. 53).  We often have apocalyptic readings during Advent because Christ came to us as a child, and he came to us in his resurrection.  He keeps coming and coming every day into our lives.  Do we see it?  Do we wait in hope for it?

Waiting is active.  Most of us consider waiting as something very passive, a hopeless state determined by events totally out of our hands.  The bus is late?  We cannot do anything about it, so we have to sit there and just wait.  It is not difficult to understand the irritation people feel when somebody says, “Just wait.”  Words like that push us into passivity.  But there is none of this passivity in Scripture.  If we wait in the conviction that a seed has been planted and that something has already begun, it changes the way we wait.  Active waiting implies being fully present to the moment with the conviction that something is happening where we are and that we want to be present to it, (Henri Nouwen’s “Waiting for God” Advent Prayer Booklet, p. 2).

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