This year we have four full weeks of Advent which for children might seem way too long. For those older and interested, a longer Advent allows us a bit more time to consider just how deeply each of us needs to be visited, embraced and rearranged. It is a four-week liturgical and personal journey inward so as to live more towards the outward.
We are invited this first week to allow Jesus to be the holy presence which will center our lives. As the Temple and the city of Jerusalem centered the life of the faithful Jewish people, Jesus has come to teach us about how to change warring into growing. We admit we need some help in managing our human lives. We pray for the Advent Grace to be more alert, awake and receptive to the invitations and presences of the Jesus who is always adventing in this world. Do we need a Savior? Do we know how to exist without swords and spears? We pray for some rearranging.
Something new is being announced! About seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah has a vision of a new place for the presence of the Holy and one God. In our First Reading we hear an oracle about the holy mountain which will rise above all others and to which all nations will come to visit and learn the instructions and the ways of the Lord.
The new presence of the Lord in the new house will bring a new light into the world and by this light there will be no need for preparing for wars. If all the nations continue walking up the hill towards the light, towards the temple of Jerusalem, then they will walk together and live together within that light.
The mountain, the temple, the city are all center to the lives of all the nations. God is taking up residence in a new way and inviting the nations to a new way of living from that center. Warring needs distance and God has come to gather the peoples together to prevent the absolute necessity of relating with others at “arms” length.
The chapter from Matthew’s Gospel from which our reading is taken begins with Jesus’ speaking of the downfall of the Jerusalem temple. The apostles ask Jesus when this will happen. The temple does come down at the hands of the Romans around the year seventy. It does seem that Jesus has prophetic sight, or he knew which way the political winds were going to blow. This is not the real issue here. Jesus is asking for his apostles to stay alert rather than their being prepared by certain knowledge. The rearranging has to do with the apostles’ needing to be more people of faith in Jesus as the personal presence of the covenanting God. If they and the early church for which Matthew is writing can trust Jesus as they trusted the permanence of the temple, then the exact time of the “final” coming will not remain important.
Jesus uses the community’s awareness of Noah and what was going on during the times leading up to the flood. The people then were living with their disorders and remained unaware of the call to them until it was too late. This is quite a dramatic historical picture for Matthew’s readers. Jesus did come, after all, through the pages of the Gospels, to get the attention of the reader.
This first Sunday of the Liturgical Year presents us with readings which ask us to make some “teaching-room” in our lives. Here at our University I have the opportunity to sit in on classes, as well as many meetings with students and faculty. I enjoy one particular experience which never fails to occur. The presenter, speaker or instructor, will state a time, date and or place for an up-coming exam or event. Without fail, within five minutes, more than a few times questions will be asked about what time, what day, where and even what exactly will be happening. I am assuming that the room is occupied with intelligent folks, but intelligence does not equal being alert, attentive and listening. Allow me to state once more that in any group over ten persons, such questions will most certainly arise and so do my mouth and cheeks in a big compassionate smile. Perhaps they don’t believe their ears, or maybe they are hoping the instructor was just kidding.
The Apostles are sitting at the feet of their teacher and He is stating clearly and with graphics that something new is at hand, but because it is so new it can be missed easily. What is new is also less secure. We do learn the new on the basis of the old, but the old is so comfortable and the new shoes can be quite uncomfortable. What is old is the temple. What is old is God’s history of lovingly caring for the Jewish nation. What is old is the familiarity with that history.
Jesus is asking for a more personal, individual response rather than a collective national relationship. Instead of relying on a tribal history, each follower of Jesus is called to learn about trusting their personal futures. In the past there was the need for swords and spears; in the future there must be no more training for personal and family, and racial, and national wars. The past is history, the future is mystery. In the past there was the solidity of the temple; in the future there will be the learning time to trust the solidity of each person’s relationship with Jesus.
“Now, when is this going to happen, what day, where and just what exactly is going to be required?” Don’t ask! just keep watching, keep learning, keep waiting. After all it is the season of Advent.
“The Lord will shower his gifts and our land will yield its fruit.” Ps. 85, 13
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