1 Sunday of Advent, Year B
Is 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7; 1Cor 1:3-9; Mk 13:33-37
Introduction: This is a homily/Scripture reflection in a book, titled: ‘Every Week God Speaks We Respond’ Cycle B, intended to be published in the future by Reverend John Tran Binh Trong.
It was published in Vietnamese in the US 2008 and republished in Viet Nam 2011. To keep the author’s writing style, this homily has not been edited and may not be by a hired hand. However, if readers would like to point out mistake(s) in spelling and grammar and to suggest English phrases and expressions, it would be greatly appreciated by the author, whose English is not his mother tongue and who did not live in the US until his adulthood. Passive sentences are used intentionally in this context to avoid using the first personal pronoun ‘I’ when applicable, that might be associated with any idea of egotism, in accord with the French saying, known as: ‘Le moi est haissable’ (The ego is detestable).
Each year when the season of Advent comes, it gives us a feeling of hope and expectation. The four weeks of Advent stand for hundreds of years the people of the Old Testament longed for the coming of the Messiah. That is why the Old Testament is called the story of waiting. The Book of the Prophet Isaiah today acknowledged the sins of the people, their infidelity and forgetfulness of God.
Therefore, the prophet implored with God to come down to deliver his people from misery and bring them back to the righteous way, praying: Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage (Is 63:17). With this prayer on behalf of the people, the prophet stirs up in them a sense of hope to serve as nourishment for their spiritual life.
While they longed for the Messiah to come, the prophet also reminded them that God also waited for their return to him, because they had forgotten God and had wandered away. In his letters to the Corinthians, Saint Paul told us the Corinthian were undergoing a crisis in the community. They were divided into factions and lived in disorder after Saint Paul had departed from them. That is why he told them to be faithful to the end and put their hope in the second coming of the Lord (1Cor 1:8). As for the Romans, they were facing persecutions. Saint Mark told them to be watchful.
As Christians of today, are we also facing difficulties and problems: material, mental, social, economic, political and moral? How do we feel when we have seen international economic crisis, unemployment, high cost of living happen around us, and business companies go bankrupt? How do we feel when we have seen and heard terrorist attacks in many parts of the world? How do we feel when we have seen and heard natural disasters such as hurricanes, cyclones, tornadoes, floods, fires, and earthquakes happen in our land and around the world? How do we feel when we have seen moral and spiritual values turn upside down? How do we feel when we have seen family breakdown in society? How do we feel when we have seen relations between grandparents, parents, husband and wife, children and grandchildren become weakened? How do we feel when we have seen the practice of faith of our children have become lax.
In addition, do we suffer physically, mentally or spiritually that makes us question why. Why did God send diseases and sufferings to us? Why did God send his crosses and disasters to our family? Diseases and deaths are still a mystery. We do not understand why diseases and deaths have come to our family at a particular time.
Facing those problems, the prophet Isaiah reminded the Hebrews of putting their hope in the Messiah to come. Saint Paul told the Corinthian to be faithful to the end. Saint Mark called upon the Romans to be watchful, repeating four times to watch for the second coming of the Lord (Mk 13:33, 35, 36, 37): to watch in the evening, at midnight, at cockcrow and in the morning. To watch or to be watchful is not an inactive state, sitting to wait in idleness, but a state ready for a next move. According to the words of the prophet Isaiah, Saint Paul and Saint Mark, we have to try to rise in order to overcome obstacles, to look beyond problems, instead of being trampled by obstacles and problems.
The lesson we should learn from the scripture readings today is each one of us must cling to a certain hope: hope that we may find jobs, hope that our spiritual life will develop, hope that our children might succeed, hope that our family relationship will be strengthened, hope that family economy will improve, hope tomorrow the light will shine. With hope, people will pray and continue praying. Without hope, people will stop praying. For the Jews, Yahweh is their hope. The motive that made them put their hope in Yahweh is the wonders he had made for them.
The Advent season we begin today is the season of hope and expectation. Hope is our reason to live. For us Christians, the newborn Savior is our hope. The Church employs the liturgy of Advent to stir up in us a desire, called hope for the coming of the Lord.
The first coming of the Lord into the human history already took place when the Messiah was born in Bethlehem. The second coming of the Lord has taken place and continues to take place when he comes in grace through the sacraments we receive, or in prayer or sacrifice or good works we do in his name. The third coming of the Lord occurs when he sends his angel to call us from this life. The fourth coming of the Lord will take place when he comes at the end of time to judge the living and the dead. If we were watchful and prepared, then no matter which stage of his coming he would come, the time of waiting would be a wait in hope. If not, then our time of waiting would be a wait in anxiety and fear.
A prayer for waiting in hope:
Oh Lord our God, you are the hope of all Christians.
Teach us to persevere in hope for your coming.
Deliver us from misery, suffering and sin.
Grant that we may be waiting in hope.
Do not let us be separated from you.
And be our reason to live. Amen.
John Tran Binh Trong