God's Word on Sunday: The divine will show when we’re ready

  • December 1, 2023

1st Sunday of Advent  (Year B) Dec. 3 (Isaiah 63:16b-17; 6:4-1, 3-8; Psalm 80; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37 

Many people have shared the feelings of frustration, helplessness and deep longing that Isaiah expressed with such poignancy. He lived in a very precarious and insecure world, one that was wracked with violence and rife with corruption. The glory of his nation was a distant memory that was rapidly fading. The people of Israel had just returned from 50 years of exile in Babylon to a devastated Judea and Jerusalem. The temple was in ruins, and the feeble attempts to rebuild it had fallen flat. It was a shadow of its former self. Many of the people lacked the enthusiasm and commitment necessary to restore the nation.

Isaiah was acutely aware that they had brought this on themselves, for they had strayed far from the Lord’s ways. But Isaiah makes a bold and strange assertion — he asks God why He had made them stray. God had done no such thing and had repeatedly sent prophets to admonish and inspire the nation to follow the path of God. Most of the time they were unheeded and even abused for their efforts.

Humans try to evade responsibility and shift the blame to others or to external circumstances. God has never left us rudderless or without ample means for following the divine path. The world is a mess because of human choices — both “ours” and “theirs” — and we need to own up to our share in it. Humanity has chosen a selfish, greedy and violent path.

Isaiah remembers with longing the mighty and wonderful deeds of power that God had manifested in the past and the ways that He had redeemed the people. Isaiah wondered where God had gone and cried from the heart for God to tear open the heavens and come down — presumably to fix everything and restore the nation’s past glory. But they had to begin at square one, learning the ways of God and committing themselves to follow. It would take time, patience and fidelity. There were no quick fixes then, and there are none now. Restoration is not to be found in angry and shrill rhetoric or in harshness and control. God will come down; the mountains will quake at God’s presence, and God will show the divine face again. But only when human hearts and minds are prepared to receive it.  

Paul was filled with gratitude at the blessings that God had given the Corinthian community. God had given them all the graces and tools that they needed, but in reading through the letter, it becomes apparent that they had misused them. God will strengthen them to the end, just as God will strengthen us. We need to stand fast in our faith and commitment and remember the words that we have been given. 

In a military setting, being on guard duty is a sacred albeit sometimes boring task. In times of war and conflict, the safety and survival of the entire unit depends on the alertness and steadiness of those on watch or guard duty. To desert one’s post or to fall asleep is seen as a heinous breach of trust with the severest of penalties — sometimes even death — meted out to the guilty. Following the parable, our master has gone on a long journey and his return has been delayed. How do we treat the delay? What do we do with the time we have? Many get lost in activities, distractions, cares and self-gratification. Some do, however, remain awake — and are probably ridiculed for their efforts. But it is they who will be attuned to the Lord’s activities and His imminent return.  It is their job to rouse the others from their slumber and set their hearts on fire.

There is another dimension to this heightened awareness. Those who are so inclined will be very sensitive to the needs and struggles of others and will be quick to strengthen faltering hearts. The followers of Jesus are alert and awake not just for their own sakes but for the sake of all humanity. God will tear open the heavens and come down and it will not be the first time. In Mark’s account of the baptism of Jesus, the heavens were torn open, and the voice of God declared Jesus to be the beloved son.

God walked among us more than once and God will do it again. Stay awake!