First Sunday of Advent (30th November)

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We begin another season of Advent, a season to celebrate coming, the coming of God into our midst. There is little doubt that we will hear at some time throughout this season the mathematics of a first, second and third coming. We may indeed ponder the theological theories of transcendence and immanence in relation to the Advent and Christmas seasons. Much of this may intrigue our minds but totally go over our hearts.

We hear in the first reading today, from the Book of Isaiah, an anguished cry from the heart and soul for God to come. The intellect may tell us that such a prayer is unnecessary since God is present, but the human psyche or soul tells another story. It knows, like the poet in Isaiah today, that the spirit must cry out in order to deal with its own pain. It is there that the sense of abandonment by God is felt at its most profound level. It is the sense of abandonment felt by Jesus on the cross. It is that same sense experienced by many of the mystics and other holy people.

The appeal, in today’s reading, is for a dramatic appearance. Rend the heavens. Shake the mountains. Do such awesome deeds that we could not even circle of lightninghope for, deeds never seen nor heard before. Perhaps, the poet thinks, such a dramatic appearance would be necessary to stir the heart back into faith, the people back to the way of God.

Sometimes the dramatic rending of the heavens might come through a natural disaster. It is not uncommon for people who have suffered a natural disaster to see in it some sign from God, perhaps an invitation to faith, to gratitude, or to a change of life. Sometimes the rending of the heavens might come about through the rising up of an oppressed people who have simply had more than they can take of injustice. Could this be a sign of God’s visitation, a way in which the complacency of our lives is shaken, and we are forced to take note of the blatant oppressions under which God’s people suffer? Perhaps we are not like the poet in Isaiah and do not seek any dramatic visitation. They can be frightening and devastating to the systems that influence our values. It is good to be aware that God’s visitation will sometimes be in the rending of the heavens, and not to miss the Presence, because we only wanted the ‘still small voice’.

The challenge for the anguished spirit when it calls out to God from its sense of abandonment is to recognize the Presence as it comes. Jesus reminds us in Mark’s Gospel today that we do not know when and where the Coming is, evening, midnight, cockcrow or morning. However, he leaves us with some advice: “Watch!”

Elizabeth Ferguson, OP

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