And so the year starts again, and as usual, we begin with the end – the vision of God’s Kingdom consummated in Christ. To be fair, though, Mark’s Gospel does not give us a vision of some future second coming of Christ so much as it gives us a vision of the events that the early church had to navigate as they witnessed the might of Rome crush their nation. But, whether we speak of a vision of God’s reign in the midst of the turmoil of the past, or a vision of God’s reign coming in the midst of the turmoil of the future, the essential message remains the same – God is always coming to us, and the world’s turmoil does not stop us from knowing and experience God’s Kingdom right here and now. It is the hope we have that God is at work in our world that gives the security, the grace and the strength to live faithfully as followers of Christ and to make our contributions to the world’s transformation – and it is this hope that Advent Sunday offers us.
First Reading: Isaiah 64:1-9
OT Response: Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Gospel: Mark 13:24-37
As the new Church Year begins and we enter the Advent season once again, this week’s readings offer us a challenge to reflect carefully on our lives and our response to God’s presence and activity in our world. Both Isaiah and the Psalm for this week offer a plea for God to come to rescue and restore God’s people, with repentance as a strong element of this plea. The recognition here is that the people have landed in trouble is because of turning away from God, and now they long to be turned back and healed.
In the New Testament, this theme is developed and connected with the coming of Christ to a troubled world. The passage from Mark’s Gospel – which certainly relates to the war which arose from the Jewish uprising of 66 AD – gives an apocalyptic picture of a world in turmoil to which Christ comes, and from which God’s people are rescued. This rescue is not so much an escape from the struggle as it is an experience of God’s presence and protection in the midst of it – although the image of harvest is often interpreted in “evacuation” terms.
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church, God’s blessing and sustaining presence are celebrated as the things that sustain us as we await the hope we have in the coming of Christ’s consummated reign. This Advent season starts, then, with a reminder of our hope in Christ, and the assurance of God’s presence in our lives, even as we are encouraged to be alert and repentant in order to ensure that we do not miss God when God comes to us.
This year Advent calls us to think about the coming of Christ as a gracious, restorative event that is always happening, and which gives us a cause for hope, not fear. Yes, there is the need for us to change – to repent – but all growth and healing requires this. The joyous challenge for our daily living in our neighborhoods, families and churches, is to use the gifts God has given us to help others to see Christ as coming to them to restore and heal, and to be willing to watch for the signs of God’s coming in our own lives and in our communities, in order to co-operate with what God is doing. This challenge is the opposite of waiting passively for a conquering God to come and sweep us off to a different world somewhere. It is an active participation in God’s saving, peace-making, restoring work. It’s about staying alert to the signs of God’s presence everywhere, and jumping in, eagerly and graciously, to share in it. It is about believing that a new world is possible, and holding on the hope that God is at work to bring this new world into being. And, it is about being prepared to examine our own hearts and make changes where we find things that oppose God’s reign. Perhaps if our Advent hope led us into this kind of just and gracious awareness and action, others would be more able to see the signs of Christ’s coming in and through us.
It is in the spirit of hoping for and participating in a more just world that faith communities are invited to take part in the National Weekend of Prayer for LGBTQ Justice during the first week of Advent. Many LGBTQ people are in a constant state of Advent, longing for a time when justice righteousness will be at home on this earth, yearning for a day when they will not have to wonder if they will face discrimination, violence, or injustice because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The season of Advent calls Christian communities to prepare the way for Christ’s return, helping to create a society where God’s justice prevails, where neighbors live together in harmony, and where the marginalized and the lowly are lifted up. Faith communities that wish to live into this call in our present moment cannot be silent as the Supreme Court determines whether or not religion can be used as a justification for discrimination. Advent, a season of longing and striving for justice, is precisely the right time to engage with questions at the heart of what it means to create a more just society.