28 November 2020 Homily for First Sunday in Advent







Readings : Is 63.16-17, 64.3-8; Ps 79/80; 1 Cor 1.3-9; Mk 13.33-37


I ‘And yet, Lord, you are our Father’ (Is 64.8)

The first Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of a new liturgical year. Last Sunday we left St Matthew’s gospel behind. We listened to its passages for the greater part of the year. Today and for many Sundays in the coming year we begin reading the gospel according to St Mark. We shall follow Mark’s account of the life and mission of Jesus of Nazareth for most Sundays of the year.

The passage we have just listened to contains a parable. It has often been described as the parable of ‘constant vigilance’.  “Be on your guard”, “stay awake” is the key message.

Like last Sunday’s gospel text from St Matthew’s gospel, the language of this passage draws on the apocalyptic tradition of the Jewish scriptures, the Old Testament.

St Mark wrote his gospel for a beleaguered faith community, for Jewish-Christians, suffering persecution in a time of havoc, violence and uncertainty. Against the background of such disruption St Mark set about profiling the identity of Jesus of Nazareth as Son of God and his significance for all time as the Christ of God (Mk 8.30), source of new life, new hope and eternal salvation.

As we gather at the table of the Word of God and at the table of the Eucharist on this first Sunday of Advent, the liturgy has led us into listening to God’s Word with the blessing of the Advent wreath and the lighting of the first purple candle. If the flame of the candle represents the light of faith in Christ, and if the circle of the wreath clad in green foliage represents hope eternal in the cycle of life, the purple of the candle invites to prayer. The liturgical colour purple invites us to enter a space of review of life and personal awareness : it signals Advent as a season which enables us to come to a point, a place, where we can repeat for ourselves those words in the first reading from the prophet Isaiah : ‘ and yet, Lord, you are our Father’ (Is 64.8).

II ’Why, Lord, leave us to stray from your ways..? (Is 63 17)

‘And yet’ suggests recognition of something, stumbling to an insight – what St Mark might describe as an ‘awakening’!  Remember the first purple candle on the Advent wreath is sometimes described as the prophets’ candle! The prophetic figures in the Old Testament are those who observe, consider, discern and call to a new awakening.

The lines from Isaiah in the first reading do exactly this. They give expression, in poetic language of course, to somebody reviewing life and thinking over the mystery of failure and evil, the gap between the human sense of the ways of God, ultimate good on the one hand and the destructive consequences of irresponsibility : ‘ we have all withered like leaves and our misdeeds carry us off like the wind’ (Is 64.6). Musing over and around the perennial question – why, Lord, leave us to stray from your ways ? (Is 63.17) – the thought process depicted in these lines arrives at a recognition of God as Creator and Saviour, using the image of the potter who shapes, moulds and restores.  

As our worship, prayers and thoughts follow the circle of the Advent wreath on our way this Advent season to the Feast of the Nativity, may we awaken, as St Mark would put it, to that ‘yet’ moment of Isaiah, that ‘yet’ of a dawning faith, emerging from the entirety of the story of our lives, whatever it may be. For life’s experience in its entirety is the seedbed for both the mystery of the incarnation and the personal discovery, and re-discovery of God.

And when that ‘yet’ moment approaches us, we shall know something of those gentle, and powerful, opening lines of the second reading from St Paul’ first letter to the Christian community in Corinth :  ‘may God Our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ send you  grace and peace’ (I Cor 1.3).