First Sunday in Advent 2020
These are reflections for the new liturgical year, beginning with this first Sunday of Advent in the plague year. But every year, month and day is a time to get closer to the awesome loving kindness of our God, brought to earth in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This year brings us back to the fundamentals of faith taught through the inspired pen of St. Mark the Evangelist. The latest translation of this Gospel is called The Memoirs of St. Peter, and is given to us because most scholars believe St. Mark was actually writing Simon Peter’s memory of his service with Jesus before, during and after the resurrection. It appears also to be derived as an abridgement of the Gospel of St. Matthew, which tradition tells us was written for a Jewish-Christian community in the Holy Land, and brought to Mark’s church in Rome. That church is clearly under persecution, and Mark’s Gospel doesn’t pussyfoot around with the reality. The Gospel of Jesus is not for the pusillanimous. Jesus is to be proclaimed to everyone, and that brings hostility–back then from the Roman emperors, and today from the whole culture. But Mark clearly proclaims that Jesus is Lord, Messiah and the true Son of God the Father.
Our readings begin with a late chapter from the prophet Isaiah, and it’s most appropriate for our Western culture today. We have indeed wandered far from God’s ways, with the murder of tiny babies before birth, widespread contraception, sex outside marriage, even done perversely and abusively. We mourn over those sins and I’m sure wish Jesus would just return and shut all the evil down. We know the uncleanness of our deeds cries out for vengeance.
But we also know that God has delivered us up to the results of sin, with this horrible virus causing all kinds of evils, even people dying without the sacraments, and with politicians promising to take away, and actually taking away our God-given rights of free speech and religion and assembly. Yet we are God’s people, Jesus’s Church. God is our Father, and we know that He can save us. //We pray that He does so soon. Lord, make us turn to you; show your face and rescue us. Rouse your power and come to save us.
Saint Paul today writes to the church he founded in the Greek city of Corinth. Corinth was right on a main sailing route and it was rightly considered a city of sin, full of prostitution and gambling and theft and idolatry. But God’s mercy ministered through St. Paul established one of the leading churches of the area right there in sin city. The community of Christians was not automatically pristine, however. It had a lot of problems, including incest, divisions into sects and returning to idol worship. But see how Paul approaches them here. He found good things to start with in their gatherings, especially the exercise of the spiritual gifts of prophecy, wisdom and effective testimony. He repeats the promise of Jesus–His last words to us at His ascension–to be with the Church until He returns again. Whatever our sin or problem or temptation, we can rely on that promise. Christ will always forgive, always empower, always bring us back together.
But we can’t fall asleep, and St. Mark reminds us of that today. We are all servants of Christ, spreading His Gospel and learning His ways every day until He returns. Each of us has his own gifts, her own work to do. Christ will return to us in one of two ways, but He will definitely come to take us with Him. Most of us will see Him when we are in the last moments of life, when we bid farewell to our mortal life and frame. We must be spiritually awake at that moment. We can’t succumb to temptation, ignore our Christian responsibilities, fall morally asleep at any time, because whatever the time of our death, it won’t be expected. So we must watch every day.
And we must also pray for the second coming of Christ. That will be the time when He will be revealed to all humans in a way that all will understand. That moment will be the final bell, the final trumpet, the finality for the human race. Our job is to be ready in our body, soul and spirit, and to go forth from this celebration, proclaiming Christ by our lives, drawing the spiritually asleep people around us to the joy of the Gospel, the consolation and power of the sacraments.