God's Word on Sunday: God is found in compassionate hearts

  • December 4, 2017
1st Sunday of Advent, Dec. 3 (Year B) Isaiah 63:16b-17; 64:1, 3-8; Psalm 80; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37

It’s all God’s fault! As bizarre as that may seem, that appears to be at the heart of the prayer in the final section of Isaiah. The words reflect the human tendency to blame everyone and everything for difficulties instead of accepting personal responsibility. 

The exiles returned from Babylon in the late 6th century BC and the full horror of the destruction of their city, temple and way of life was being felt. They asked why all of this had happened — they knew that it was because of their collective sin, but why had they strayed from God’s ways? 

The author insisted that God had made them stray, even hardening their hearts so that they were trapped by their collective sin and ignorance. The prayer expressed a painful and poignant yearning — almost a desperation — for a time in the past when God seemed so near and alive in their collective life. 

The anguished cry for God to tear open the heavens and come down could be uttered by people in every day and age, but probably even more so in our own. The author even accuses God of hiding from them, implying that this was one of the reasons for their downfall. But in his heart, our prophet knew better, for he recognized that God meets those who gladly do right and remember God’s ways. 

God doesn’t hide or go anywhere, nor does God cause us to sin. It would be a strange God indeed, who would do such a thing. But God can only be perceived in hearts that are compassionate, just and generous. When selfishness, self-indulgence, cruelty, injustice or indifference rule the individual or collective heart and soul, no one should be surprised that God seems distant or absent. 

There is but one solution — begin the journey home, today, one step at a time. Live each day and moment in kindness, mercy and justice. Meditate on God often and live in gratitude for the blessings that have been received. The presence of God will begin to burn brightly and people will once again encounter God, realizing that God was present all along.

Paul knew that Jesus did not play hide and seek either, but continually blessed His followers with the spiritual gifts needed for the journey. That journey can be long and arduous, but Paul was encouraging. Jesus strengthens us to the end, for our relationship with Jesus is the gift of our God, who is absolutely faithful. Paul would add one proviso: It is important for us to remain ‘in Jesus’ — faithful in our hearts and minds, even in our weaknesses and trials.

Keeping awake is the metaphor often used in the gospels and Pauline letters to signify spiritual constancy and awareness. For many, life is just one thing after another, experienced without any real awareness of the significance of events or the opportunities they represent. 

There is a danger of reaching the end of life without much to show for it spiritually. It is easy to be swallowed up by the stresses of everyday living — financial struggles, health, relationships and career. Living in a violent, scary and unstable world also corrodes our confidence and makes it more difficult to focus on spiritual ideals. But these are the times that call for spiritual courage and lives of faith and hope. 

Every situation, regardless of its apparent negativity, is an opportunity and calling to manifest a higher spiritual purpose. Every person we encounter, regardless of how difficult or problematic they may be, is an occasion for offering hope and encouragement to another struggling soul. 

In the parable, the master assigned each person in the house a particular task to which they were expected to be faithful and reliable. In a similar manner, God has given each of us particular challenges, life experiences, talents and abilities. 

None of us knows exactly how long we will be on this Earth, so it is important to use the opportunities and challenges of each day to their utmost. Being spiritually awake enables us to recognize the presence and calling of God in all challenges and to respond to them with wisdom, grace and compassion. 

We do not know when the time will come, but to those that remain awake, it doesn’t matter. 

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