Dec. 3 - We are called to watchfulness for the coming of the day of the Lord

July 29, 2019 at 12:37 p.m.

The Word

There is a deep sense of angst that has gripped many people in our nation and our world. Acts of terrorism and random acts of gun violence have many people on edge. Increasing hostility between nations and talk of nuclear proliferation and war are most alarming, especially to those who have been through this in the past. Add to that the pandemic of deaths both from addiction and from suicide, this fear sweeps broad and makes sense.  

This time of in the Liturgical Year, as we enter the season of Advent, our focus shifts to dire warnings about the coming Day of the Lord and the final tribulations that the Lord warns about. Coupled with the prevalent eschatological warnings that come through the messages of Our Lady at Fatima, the readings of the Book of Revelation, and other non-Christian sources, these same feelings can become exaggerated.

Our Gospel passage today reminds us to be watchful. Watchfulness can sound ominous. Jesus does not intend to unduly frighten his disciples any more than he intends to frighten us. But he does issue a warning that demands attention. We cannot simply live our lives in oblivion. Each day comes with its own experiences and the Lord reminds us that he does indeed come to us and is with us. Each day, which we understand is a gift from God, encapsulates our relationship with the Lord.

In a sense, we can see each day in itself as an entire life time.  Our lifespan, “from the rising of the sun to its setting,” is a two-fold opportunity. The First Reading, from the third section of the Book of the Prophecy of Isaiah, is a reflection on where Israel as a people has gone in their relationship with the Lord. The prophet reflects on the deafening silence of God since the fall of Jerusalem some 80 years before. As he acknowledges God’s anger at their sinfulness he pleads with God to act.

The prophet understands the covenantal relationship with God in common human experience. With Jerusalem in ruins and the covenant seemingly in shambles, Isaiah pleads with God to do something. Even if God wrought further destruction and allowed his anger to rage, at least the people would know that he acted and acted justly. Instead, his silence and distance causes distress.

We have all no doubt been in that same experience with others in our lives. I recently had a conversation with a student who got in some trouble in school. As we spoke about what he did, I asked him how he handled explaining the situation with his parents. He said the worst part was that his father said nothing at all. No reaction. His father didn’t speak to him for a couple of days. It was the disciplinary silence, that sense of disappointment, that was louder and stronger than if had he been punished actively and immediately.

The exiles from Jerusalem are in the same situation. They are waiting – anxiously – for God to act.

The reading ends with the beautiful reflection from Isaiah: “Yet, O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.”

We know from the history of Israel that God does indeed act and shortly after Isaiah’s prophecy. He does not act with fire and brimstone but with mercy and restoration. Jerusalem is rebuilt and Lord’s promises even greater things: He himself will visit his Temple which will become a house of prayer for all people.

As Jesus calls us to watchfulness he does not call us to angst but rather to a hopeful expectation of the fulfillment of the promise of the father and the coming of the Kingdom of God. We live in hopeful anticipation through Advent and throughout our lives. When we accept God’s mercy and love our waiting is with anticipatory joy and not despairing anxiety.

Dec. 10 – Isaiah prepares us for the coming of the Lord

Words of comfort are often more difficult to hear with an open and sincere heart than are words of impending disaster. We accept consolation when things are bad, and we hope that they will somehow get better, even when at times it seems to be impossible. But when we hear words of pending disaster when the situation of the moment seems to be going pretty well, we are more disposed to prepare for the encroaching danger than we are to accept consolation.

As we approached the Advent season, and even last week on the First Sunday of Advent, we have been hearing of the need for watchfulness and preparation in the face of the coming Day of the Lord. As we come into this Second Sunday of Advent, the focus of the Readings shifts to a hope-filled consolation.

In context, it was the situation of the prophet and the people of God in history at the time that led Isaiah to write the prophecy we hear in the First Reading, which tells of a very dreadful time. This prophecy is earlier than the First Reading for the First Sunday of Advent, so there is more a sense of impending destruction instead of the destruction having already occurred.

The Babylonians are bearing down on the city. The Jewish way of life and their sense of themselves as a nation, and as the people of God, are threatened. Eventually some will abandon their ways and assimilate into the Babylonian culture. There will remain, however a faithful remnant who yet in their suffering hear the call of the prophet.

A Jerusalem destroyed, is not abandoned. A people, though in exile, are not forsaken. They will return to rebuild this city, the city which God has chosen as the mountain where God is worshiped will once again flourish with life, and people from all corners of the earth will find consolation there.

In order to make this most difficult overland journey through deserts back from Babylon to Jerusalem over hills and valleys easier the Lord exclaims: “make a highway in the desert, fill in the valleys and level the mountains.” While the path from the exile will be fraught with danger, the return will be made easy as God is calling the people back and revealing his presence to them there.  The long suffering of the people will be at an end.

The Gospel passage comes through the proclamation of John the Baptizer. With a slight shift in the wording of the Hebrew text, Mark understands the Baptizer as, “the voice crying in the wilderness make ready the way of the Lord.” 

This movement from exile to city to desert is a significant and deeply symbolic one. In a sense it is bringing covenant full circle. What began in the wilderness with Moses then moved to the settlement in the Promised Land. Now an exile looms, one that the people fear bodes the very end of everything. But Isaiah proclaims that they shall again move through the wilderness and return to the Promised Land.

As Israel and Jerusalem, we hear the compassionate summons from God who calls us in the midst of our wilderness to joyfully prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord anew in our hearts through the forgiveness of our sins. In this way we are made ready to enter the City of God and the heavenly Jerusalem, beginning the cycle yet again.

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

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There is a deep sense of angst that has gripped many people in our nation and our world. Acts of terrorism and random acts of gun violence have many people on edge. Increasing hostility between nations and talk of nuclear proliferation and war are most alarming, especially to those who have been through this in the past. Add to that the pandemic of deaths both from addiction and from suicide, this fear sweeps broad and makes sense.  

This time of in the Liturgical Year, as we enter the season of Advent, our focus shifts to dire warnings about the coming Day of the Lord and the final tribulations that the Lord warns about. Coupled with the prevalent eschatological warnings that come through the messages of Our Lady at Fatima, the readings of the Book of Revelation, and other non-Christian sources, these same feelings can become exaggerated.

Our Gospel passage today reminds us to be watchful. Watchfulness can sound ominous. Jesus does not intend to unduly frighten his disciples any more than he intends to frighten us. But he does issue a warning that demands attention. We cannot simply live our lives in oblivion. Each day comes with its own experiences and the Lord reminds us that he does indeed come to us and is with us. Each day, which we understand is a gift from God, encapsulates our relationship with the Lord.

In a sense, we can see each day in itself as an entire life time.  Our lifespan, “from the rising of the sun to its setting,” is a two-fold opportunity. The First Reading, from the third section of the Book of the Prophecy of Isaiah, is a reflection on where Israel as a people has gone in their relationship with the Lord. The prophet reflects on the deafening silence of God since the fall of Jerusalem some 80 years before. As he acknowledges God’s anger at their sinfulness he pleads with God to act.

The prophet understands the covenantal relationship with God in common human experience. With Jerusalem in ruins and the covenant seemingly in shambles, Isaiah pleads with God to do something. Even if God wrought further destruction and allowed his anger to rage, at least the people would know that he acted and acted justly. Instead, his silence and distance causes distress.

We have all no doubt been in that same experience with others in our lives. I recently had a conversation with a student who got in some trouble in school. As we spoke about what he did, I asked him how he handled explaining the situation with his parents. He said the worst part was that his father said nothing at all. No reaction. His father didn’t speak to him for a couple of days. It was the disciplinary silence, that sense of disappointment, that was louder and stronger than if had he been punished actively and immediately.

The exiles from Jerusalem are in the same situation. They are waiting – anxiously – for God to act.

The reading ends with the beautiful reflection from Isaiah: “Yet, O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.”

We know from the history of Israel that God does indeed act and shortly after Isaiah’s prophecy. He does not act with fire and brimstone but with mercy and restoration. Jerusalem is rebuilt and Lord’s promises even greater things: He himself will visit his Temple which will become a house of prayer for all people.

As Jesus calls us to watchfulness he does not call us to angst but rather to a hopeful expectation of the fulfillment of the promise of the father and the coming of the Kingdom of God. We live in hopeful anticipation through Advent and throughout our lives. When we accept God’s mercy and love our waiting is with anticipatory joy and not despairing anxiety.

Dec. 10 – Isaiah prepares us for the coming of the Lord

Words of comfort are often more difficult to hear with an open and sincere heart than are words of impending disaster. We accept consolation when things are bad, and we hope that they will somehow get better, even when at times it seems to be impossible. But when we hear words of pending disaster when the situation of the moment seems to be going pretty well, we are more disposed to prepare for the encroaching danger than we are to accept consolation.

As we approached the Advent season, and even last week on the First Sunday of Advent, we have been hearing of the need for watchfulness and preparation in the face of the coming Day of the Lord. As we come into this Second Sunday of Advent, the focus of the Readings shifts to a hope-filled consolation.

In context, it was the situation of the prophet and the people of God in history at the time that led Isaiah to write the prophecy we hear in the First Reading, which tells of a very dreadful time. This prophecy is earlier than the First Reading for the First Sunday of Advent, so there is more a sense of impending destruction instead of the destruction having already occurred.

The Babylonians are bearing down on the city. The Jewish way of life and their sense of themselves as a nation, and as the people of God, are threatened. Eventually some will abandon their ways and assimilate into the Babylonian culture. There will remain, however a faithful remnant who yet in their suffering hear the call of the prophet.

A Jerusalem destroyed, is not abandoned. A people, though in exile, are not forsaken. They will return to rebuild this city, the city which God has chosen as the mountain where God is worshiped will once again flourish with life, and people from all corners of the earth will find consolation there.

In order to make this most difficult overland journey through deserts back from Babylon to Jerusalem over hills and valleys easier the Lord exclaims: “make a highway in the desert, fill in the valleys and level the mountains.” While the path from the exile will be fraught with danger, the return will be made easy as God is calling the people back and revealing his presence to them there.  The long suffering of the people will be at an end.

The Gospel passage comes through the proclamation of John the Baptizer. With a slight shift in the wording of the Hebrew text, Mark understands the Baptizer as, “the voice crying in the wilderness make ready the way of the Lord.” 

This movement from exile to city to desert is a significant and deeply symbolic one. In a sense it is bringing covenant full circle. What began in the wilderness with Moses then moved to the settlement in the Promised Land. Now an exile looms, one that the people fear bodes the very end of everything. But Isaiah proclaims that they shall again move through the wilderness and return to the Promised Land.

As Israel and Jerusalem, we hear the compassionate summons from God who calls us in the midst of our wilderness to joyfully prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord anew in our hearts through the forgiveness of our sins. In this way we are made ready to enter the City of God and the heavenly Jerusalem, beginning the cycle yet again.

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

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