ADVENT – 2020 – FIRST SUNDAY: ISAIAH 63:16-17; 64: 1-8; PS 80; 1 COR 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37
The readings of this first Sunday of Advent focus on the world of human pain. The placement of these particular readings at the beginning of Advent helps our understanding of the entire season. Isaiah’s lamentation is a prayer of faithful people in the midst of suffering: religious souls lament the absence of God; tender hearts lament the fate of those who have been marginalized; broken spirits lament the suffering that touches the lives of those effected by war, climate change, poverty and the pandemic.
Isaiah, the prophet is longing for the love of God, but what he finds instead is what he cannot bear. God is angry and has hidden his face. How can this be? God angry? God gone? How can this be? Doesn’t God love us? Where is he? Why isn’t he here?
Isaiah answers these questions, but in the saddest way. The reason, the prophet says, lies in our sinfulness. God is not gone from us because he has forsaken us. Our sins, our weaknesses, our willfulness, our pride, our failure to love, our failure even to accept the love of others … all of these have made us wither. We are like fallen leaves, dried up and unclean; our guilt carries us away like the wind.
But how are we supposed to be holy – clean and good – for the Lord, except by the Lord’s own doing? No one can make himself holy by his own efforts. Only God’s grace can make a person holy. And so Isaiah cries out to God, “Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways? … You are our father; we are the clay and you the potter; we are all the work of your hands … Be not so very angry, Lord, keep not our guilt forever in mind; look upon us who are all your people.”
There is an answer in today’s Responsorial Psalm. The Psalmist cries out, “Lord, make us turn to you!” This is a cry from a person who wanders from the Lord. He wanders because he wants to … that is the sad truth. But when he can’t find God in his wandering, he cries out to God, “Lord make me turn to you!” Then he wants fervently not to want the very wandering he is so prone to want.
It may be then that God lets us do what we want to do, including wandering from him, so that finally we at least want to want him. [Wasn’t it Augustine who said, “Sin is a punishment for sin.”?] Maybe we will find God when we cry out with the Psalmist, “Lord, make me turn to you!” . . . . . . END