As we begin the Advent Season and enter Cycle A of the Sunday Readings, we see that our Readings take us in different directions. 

At a time in the history of ancient Israel, when it seemed that God was abandoning the covenant and his people, leaving them to their own devices because they had turned away from him, the prophet Isaiah brings a hope-filled message. Isaiah foresees the promise of a peaceable kingdom where the presence of God is made manifest, and the order of creation that God had set in place at the foundation of the world would be fulfilled.

Such a message, while it resonated with the people, certainly ran counter to their lived experiences. The kings and generals would not heed his message -- and subsequent kings and generals would ignore the messages of other prophets as well -- which led to the very destruction of first the Kingdom of Israel and then also the Kingdom of Judah.

Yet, the promise remained, bringing a sure hope to the people. Of course, the authors of the Gospels see in the promises made to Isaiah a future where there is much more hope, one fulfilled in the Incarnation of God’s Word in Jesus, and then through the Paschal events. This is so deeply connected that each of us when we hear the text from the second chapter of Isaiah in the liturgy this weekend automatically think of Christmas. Indeed, Jesus preaches the coming of a peaceable kingdom, but he does not promise a peaceable means to bring about that kingdom.

This particular passage in Isaiah gained much prominence in the anti-nuclear armament movement popular in the early 1980s, called the Plowshares. Although the group still exists, they are less known today than they were 40 years ago. The question as to whether or not we can on our own bring about a peaceable kingdom or it needs to be brought through the work of the Messiah apart from human cooperation or intervention, is a matter of contention in this issue. Nonetheless, advocating for peace, especially at times of heightened international tension and the threat of nuclear war, is a noble and proper thing to do. Someday the kingdom of God will be manifest in our midst, whether we cooperate with it or not.  

St. Paul calls us to alertness in living our lives and exercising our discipleship. We cannot take any day or any part of a day for granted. Each of us is accountable for our actions, and in particular, for how our actions influence the values and behaviors of others. Because there is a delay in the full realization of God’s Kingdom does not mean that it is not coming. Each one of us is called to a complete accounting of our own lives, in an individual moment of encounter with God at the moment of our death. To waste our time on sinful pursuits contrary to the Kingdom, is destructive and destroys our relationship with God and his kingdom.

In the Gospel, Jesus turns our focus to the ways in which we can be oblivious to the work of God in our lives and in our world. His focus is on being attentive to the signs of the times and the coming presence of God. 

We must be careful, Jesus warns us, to remain faithful and steadfast in the practice of our faith, and to be especially attentive to our moral lives.

Fundamentally, we must live a life of faith punctuated by love. While we ought not to overread the “signs of the times,” we must still recognize that the Day of the Lord is always at hand.

God’s kingdom is present with us, and yet it has not been brought to fulfillment. Hence, as Christians, we live in hope of the coming of the Kingdom, certain that the Kingdom is indeed coming, but without any certainty as to when it will be revealed in our midst. The priest prays for this sense at the embolism prayer at Mass as he says: “Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ.”

Hence the sense of punishment, restoration, war, peace, reconciliation and joy are concurring, and while seeming contradictory, are unified themes that look forward to the coming of the Kingdom of God. Advent invites us to consider both views of history.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.