Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
Find your new life in God's face
In Mark's Gospel for the first Sunday of Advent this year, Jesus tells us to "keep alert" and "keep awake" constantly. This first week of Advent is marked by readings from Isaiah that talk of vigilant waiting for a new way of life. Such "waiting," however, cannot be passive. If we want a new reality, we need to cooperate with God in creating it.
In Sunday's First Reading, the prophet longs for God to "tear open the heavens and come down" (64:1). And he laments, "you have hidden your face from us" because "there is no one who calls on your name" (v. 7). "We all fade like a leaf and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away" (v. 6).
Isaiah writes for a people in exile, a people who have been ripped from their homeland and forcibly taken to Babylon. The alert prophet sees that in this strange land, God seems hidden and the people in despair. They have come to accept the Babylonian way of life with its strange gods and different definition of reality.
In this first week of Advent, the readings chosen from Isaiah try to spark an awareness of something old but which, in the Babylonian context, has come to seem new. By changing our awareness, the prophet seems to awaken us when it seems as though we have accepted a dreary, flat, God-less social system.
On Monday, Isaiah announces, "The Lord shall judge between the nations, . . . they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore" (2:4). Stirring thoughts for a people trapped in a nation that always seems to be at war or preparing for war!
On Tuesday, Israel tells us that the earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord. Because of this startling turn of events, "The wolf shall lie down with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them" (11:6). The knowledge of God makes such a difference that even animals live in peace.
On Wednesday, Isaiah speaks of God's arrival. God will destroy "the shroud that is cast over all the peoples" (25:7). Our bleak, colourless, tasteless reality in the land of exile disappears as the Lord prepares "a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines" (v. 6).
On Thursday, we hear how faith prevails despite the gloom. The "righteous nation that keeps faith" (26:2) is allowed into the great city after the Lord has destroyed another city - "the lofty city" (v. 5). This lofty city is trampled by "the feet of the poor" (v. 6).
Isaiah tells us in Friday's reading that tyranny and injustice are destroyed. Things have changed radically and "the meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord" (29:19).
Finally, the prophet proclaims on Saturday, "The Lord binds up the injuries of his people" (30:26). Those who formerly had little will see their "cattle graze in broad pastures, and the oxen and the donkey that till the ground eat silage" (v. 23-24).
This is more than a proclamation of idle hope; it is the promise hope will be fulfilled if we turn to the Lord and away from the false reality that engulfs us. The life the Lord gives us is so much more full than the blind tyranny that is so characteristic of the world's most powerful nation.
Hope lies not in a lukewarm faith that is too readily compromised by the lures of comfort and armed protection of worldly self-centredness. Hope is found instead in the "knowledge" of God, the frequent calling on his name and the realization that God's ways, though sometimes strange, are greater than our ways. This is the way to true peace, to "feast of well-aged wines."
We move in that direction by being alert. This is not a physical alertness, but a quality of heart that listens to all and sees all in the light of the reign of God.
God will not hide his face from us if we seek it out.
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