Advent I ✬ Sunday, November 30
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Readings: Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37
If you have a home Advent wreath, you may want to light the first candle to shine as you enter
this time of reflection and prayer. The simple liturgy is drawn from the readings for this week.
Prayers for candle-lighting
Restore us, O LORD God of hosts;
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved. [Light the candle]
You meet those who gladly do right,
those who remember you in your ways.
Restore us, O LORD God of hosts;
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.
Interpreting the Readings
The readings for Advent immerse us in the longings of Israel:
• both poignant longing for a remembered past when the Israelites were a united
nation under the rule and guidance of their God,
• and a courageous longing for a future that God is preparing the people to
We live in the midst of a community of faith with very deep roots and long memories.
As the inheritors of these generations of the faithful, we have the advantage of wisdom
deeper than one generation.
Today’s readings take us into two distinct time periods:
• the time when the exiled citizens of Judea were returning to their homeland
after upwards of fifty years in Babylon (in the reading from Isaiah, around 538
• and the first century CE, when Jesus of Nazareth was carrying out his ministry
in the late twenties in Roman Imperial Palestine (witnessed in the reading from
the Gospel of Mark), and Paul was spreading the Gospel across the Empire in
the fifties (evidenced by the opening lines of his letter to the church in Corinth,
• Both Jesus and Paul proclaim the reign of God in the midst of the oppressive
rule of Rome: a proclamation of faith in God’s power to create in the face of
Rome’s power to destroy.
While the readings may be separated by centuries, they all witness to the intense
longing of the people of God for God to enter in a definitive way to establish justice and
righteousness. For the Church, Advent marks a season of preparation for God’s entry
• Because God is pure holiness, we seek to prepare ourselves by disciplines of
• Because God is pure justice and mercy, we prepare ourselves by caring for our
fellow human beings with concern for justice on the large scale and works of
mercy on the personal scale.
• Because God is pure love, we prepare ourselves by opening and widening our
hearts to God and our neighbor.
One of the most difficult readings this week is the passage from Mark 13, which is
sometimes called the “Little Apocalypse.”
• Part of what makes it so difficult is that it depends on our recognizing
references to several other Jewish writings that were familiar to Jesus’ audience,
from prophets like Isaiah and Daniel to other writings with which most of us
are not familiar, such as the Similitudes of Enoch.
• In the centuries around the time of Jesus, there was a great deal of interest in
the powers that were understood to exist between the completely invisible God
and our material world.
• For example, the Son of Man was understood to be a heavenly figure to whom
God would entrust the judgment of the nations before God’s full entry into the
world. You can probably imagine how much an oppressed people yearned for
God’s judgment upon their oppressors. Early followers of Jesus understood
him, as risen Lord, to be this Son of Man, who would return to bring about the
full consequences of God’s justice, so that God’s reign could be fulfilled upon
• Likewise, there was a great deal of interest in angels in Jesus’ day, and we see
angels mentioned in the passage, assisting the Son of Man.
What is not at all difficult to understand (though challenging) in Mark 13 is the repeated
call to “be alert” and “keep awake,” because the reign of God may come at any time.
Paul’s words to the assembly of the faithful in Corinth give us insight into their lively
sense of the Spirit’s gracious and powerful outpouring upon them, as they experienced
the risen Christ’s presence with them and awaited the full reign of God.
The four weeks of Advent give Christians a chance to prepare to welcome the fullness
of Incarnation at Christmas, not only the Incarnation of God in the infant Jesus in the
first century, but perhaps even more significantly, the ongoing incarnation of God in the
people and events of our own lives now.
People choose different ways to prepare for God’s nearness.
• Some choose to adopt practices of quiet reflection and simplicity, in order not to
get caught up in the commercial frenzy of our surrounding culture.
• Others choose to engage in creative endeavors, to experience God’s
• Others choose to deepen their practice of traditional disciplines of prayer or
study of the scriptures or charity.
• Many Christians engage practices of generosity during Advent, as a corollary to
God’s generous self-giving in Christ.
This study offers some questions for reflection each day, to bring the scriptures into
your life. Knowing what kind of preparation you are drawn to may help you use those
questions in a way most appropriate to how God is calling you right now.