First Sunday of Advent
First Reading: Isaiah 63:16-17, 19; 64:2-7
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
Second Reading: St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians 1:3-9
Gospel: According to St. Mark 13:33-37
This 1st Sunday of Advent brings the Church to the beginning of a new liturgical year where all of the readings are now from Year B of the Church calendar, featuring the Gospel of St. Mark. This Sunday also starts the official season of waiting for Christ – both at the Nativity and at the Parousia or Second Coming. Thus, Advent has the dual purpose of being both a time of joyful expectation as well as one of penitential preparation.
The first purpose is one that we have no difficulty fulfilling as we move throughout December from one festive event to the next. It is the second – penitential preparation – that often goes unfulfilled, even by those who want to make sure that we “put the ‘Christ’ back in Christmas.”
The first sign that this is a season that leans a bit towards the penitential is that the priests’ vestments at Mass are violet just as they are during Lent. A second indicator of the penitential similarity to Lent is the omission of the Gloria, an omission that reminds us that only at the Nativity did the angels and all of heaven sing out “Glory to God in the highest!”
So Advent lives in that space between festivity and penance, and this year that space is more apparent than ever. In any other year this is a time where anticipation and preparation meet. We can’t wait for relatives and friends to enter our homes, yet we must spend a good deal of time, effort, and money getting ready for their arrival by cleaning, shopping, wrapping, baking, cooking, and, of course, decorating.
But this year is different, and as the needle leans more towards penance than festivity, we are offered the unique opportunity to view Advent through a lens that focuses on the coming of Christ into our hearts rather than the coming of family and friends into our homes. Making our hearts ready for the coming of Jesus is exactly what Isaiah spoke of to the Israelites when he cried out to God: “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!”
Throughout Advent, as well as during each of the Masses on Christmas Day, Isaiah is the ‘go to’ prophet. The words of Isaiah not only spoke a message to the Israelites of his day, but they also contain a universality that allows them to apply to all people, in all places, in all times. Isaiah’s desire that God “would rend the heavens and come down” to perform “awesome deeds we could not hope for” is one that has not gone away; in fact, it is a longing that is more relevant today than in any time previous.
In less than a month the anticipation of Christmas will be behind us. God will have granted Isaiah his desire by rending the heavens and performing the most awesome of deeds – taking on a human nature in order to bring us salvation. We know that God will fulfill His part of Isaiah’s prophecy, and so it is our responsibility to keep our end of the deal by spending these weeks of Advent preparing for an event so singular that, as Isaiah tells us, “no ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen.”