Preparing for Mass on the First Sunday of Advent

The first reading: Isaiah 2:1-5

Advent is a season where we celebrate and wait for the ultimate fulfilment of the promises of God.

We prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus in whom that fulfilment finally begins, but there is much still of evil and sin to be healed of, freed from.

The Lectionary reading – at the end of the reading below (and in a yellow box!) – urges us to fresh hope but its import may be muted unless we bear in mind the fury of the First Chapter of Isaiah, as God spells out the dire predicament of his beloved people, should they not return to him. He has not left them, but they have forsaken him.

Christians might be tempted to read the passage simply as a description of the failure of Israel to remain faithful, and the need for the fresh start that God will offer. A little self-knowledge will indicate that our situation is little different to theirs – and that the remedy is the same!

Chapter 1

1 The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

The Wickedness of Judah
2 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth;
for the LORD has spoken:
“Children have I reared and brought up,
but they have rebelled against me.
3 The ox knows its owner,
and the donkey its master’s crib,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.”
4 Ah, sinful nation,
a people laden with iniquity,
offspring of evildoers,
children who deal corruptly!
They have forsaken the LORD,
they have despised the Holy One of Israel,
they are utterly estranged.
5 Why will you still be struck down?
Why will you continue to rebel?
The whole head is sick,
and the whole heart faint.
6 From the sole of the foot even to the head,
there is no soundness in it,
but bruises and sores
and raw wounds;
they are not pressed out or bound up
or softened with oil.
7 Your country lies desolate;
your cities are burned with fire;
in your very presence
foreigners devour your land;
it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners.
8 And the daughter of Zion is left
like a booth in a vineyard,
like a lodge in a cucumber field,
like a besieged city.
9 If the LORD of hosts
had not left us a few survivors,
we should have been like Sodom,
and become like Gomorrah
….

The Unfaithful City
21 How the faithful city
has become a whore,
she who was full of justice!
Righteousness lodged in her,
but now murderers.
22 Your silver has become dross,
your best wine mixed with water.
23 Your princes are rebels
and companions of thieves.
Everyone loves a bribe
and runs after gifts.
They do not bring justice to the fatherless,
and the widow’s cause does not come to them.
24 Therefore the Lord declares,
the LORD of hosts,
the Mighty One of Israel:
“Ah, I will get relief from my enemies
and avenge myself on my foes.
25 I will turn my hand against you
and will smelt away your dross as with lye
and remove all your alloy.
26 And I will restore your judges as at the first,
and your counselors as at the beginning.
Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness,
the faithful city.”
27 Zion shall be redeemed by justice,
and those in her who repent, by righteousness.
28 But rebels and sinners shall be broken together,
and those who forsake the LORD shall be consumed.
….


Chapter 2

The Mountain of the Lord
1 The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
2 It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the LORD
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
3 and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4 He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.
5 O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the LORD.

Acknowledgements

  • Translation of Scriptures: English Standard Version (c) 2001-9, Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
  • Commentary: (c) 2019, Allen Morris
  • Photo (c) 2019, Allen Morris. Swords into Plowshares. Hull Minister.

Preparing for Mass on the First Sunday of Advent

In the section of the psalm we will sing on Sunday (highlighted below), the Psalmist sings the praises of Jerusalem and its Temple, of the promises of the Lord.

The psalm gives honour to the city and its temple, and the covenant that they respresent.

The final words also gesture towards Israel’s mission, our mission – to share the goodness of God with whoever it is our privilege to encounter.

The love of God cannot be separated from love of neighbour, whoever the neighbour…

Psalm 122 (121)

1     A Song of Ascents. Of David.

      I rejoiced when they said to me,
      “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
2     And now our feet are standing
      within your gates, O Jerusalem.

3     Jerusalem is built as a city
      bonded as one together.


4     It is there that the tribes go up,
      the tribes of the Lord.
      For Israel’s witness it is
      to praise the name of the Lord.
5     There were set the thrones for judgment,
      the thrones of the house of David.

6     For the peace of Jerusalem pray,
      “May they prosper, those who love you.”
7     May peace abide in your walls,
      and security be in your towers.

8     For the sake of my family and friends,
      let me say, “Peace upon you.”
9     For the sake of the house of the Lord, our God,
      I will seek good things for you.

Acknowledgements
Translation of Psalms: From The Revised Grail Psalms: A Liturgical Psalter. (c) 2010.
Commentary: (c) 2019, Allen Morris
Photo (c) 2018, Allen Morris. Golden Gate and Kedron Valley, Jerusalem.

Preparing for Mass on the First Sunday of Advent

Second reading: Romans 13:11-14

Paul urges the Christians of Rome – and we who hear his words nearly 2000 years later – to live lovingly and faithfully. That is our charge – regardless of how others are. We are to live even now as citizens of the kingdom of God, and presuming that the rulers of this world act with the authority of God.

Paul does not here address the question of what to do when the rulers of this world are corrupt and do evil. In such cases the Christian will work for restoration of justice and the overturning of tyranny. But Paul’s immediate concern is that – although the ultimate allegiance of the faithful is to God – we, they, also have responsibilities in this world – so we pay our taxes, and shoulder our other responsibilities and duties too. Brotherly love, and working for the common good is fulfilment of God’s law.

But for the believer who knows that the Day of the Lord is imminent – because of what God has done in and through Jesus Christ – there is additional reason to take care of how we live. As Christ did, so we are to make offering of our lives as a sacrifice pleasing to God.

Romans 12
A Living Sacrifice
[1] I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. [2] Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Gifts of Grace
[3] For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. [4] For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, [5] so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

Marks of the True Christian
[9] Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. [10] Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. [11] Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. [12] Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. [13] Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

[14] Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. [15] Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. [16] Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. [17] Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. [18] If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. [19] Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” [20] To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” [21] Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Chapter 13
Submission to the Authorities
[1] Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. [2] Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. [3] For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, [4] for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. [5] Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. [6] For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. [7] Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Fulfilling the Law Through Love
[8] Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. [9] For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [10] Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

[Besides this] You know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

NB text in Italics above is omitted from the Lectionary text.

Acknowledgements

  • Translation of Scriptures: English Standard Version (c) 2001-9, Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
  • Commentary: (c) 2019, Allen Morris
  • Photo (c) 2006, Allen Morris. Dockhead parish, Southwark.

Preparing for Mass on the First Sunday of Advent

Gospel: Matthew 24:37-44

The Gospel passage presented in the Lectionary (see the yellow box below) comes at the end of a long series of laments by Jesus at how his co-religionists fail to live up to what they profess by their faith and in their religion. He sees this leading to disaster for his people and the city where God makes his home with them.

Israel and Jerusalem have known such disasters before, and have known exile from their God. But then a Messiah set them free – the gentile Cyrus who allowed Israel’s return to its promised land.

Jesus too says the expected disaster is not to be the final end – the truly faithful will be saved. He invites us to seek after righteousness!

Matthew 23
Lament over Jerusalem
[37] “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! [38] See, your house is left to you desolate. [39] For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Matthew 24
Jesus Foretells Destruction of the Temple
[1] Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. [2] But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

Signs of the End of the Age
[3] As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” [4] And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. [5] For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. [6] And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. [7] For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. [8] All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.

[9] “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. [10] And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. [11] And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. [12] And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. [13] But the one who endures to the end will be saved. [14] And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

….

The Coming of the Son of Man
[29] “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. [30] Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. [31] And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

….

No One Knows That Day and Hour
[36] “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.

[37] For As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

NB text in Italics above is omitted from the Lectionary text.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins
25 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Acknowledgements

  • Translation of Scriptures: English Standard Version (c) 2001-9, Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
  • Commentary: (c) 2019, Allen Morris
  • Photo (c) 2016, Allen Morris. Floor tile, Gloucester Cathedral.