Advent – First Sunday

By Fr Dumisani Vilakati

First Reading :     Isaiah 63:16d-17; 64:1. 3b-8
Responsorial Psalm :     Psalm 80
Second Reading :     1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Gospel :     Mark 13:33-37

The theme of the closeness of God to his people seems to reign supreme in this Sunday’s readings.

In the first reading, taken from the book of the prophet Isaiah, God is called Father and Redeemer. From common experience we know that the father shares many things with his children, most of all his genes, culture, religion and indeed material possessions. A Redeemer on the other hand, is a relative who, when his kinsman is in trouble, makes every effort to bring him out of his misery. In this we may recall the great example of Boaz (in the book of Ruth) who redeemed the suffering and needy Ruth, thus being instrumental in her sustenance and eventually, both of them becoming ancestors of David as well as of our Lord Jesus Christ. The fact that God is both Father and Redeemer, should infuse us with a sure hope that he will never leave us untended.

Having said that, we notice that according to the prophet God is seemingly absent from among the people at the moment of the prophecy. The prophet is confident though that God, who had liberated his people from the slavery of Babylon, will act again at this moment of estrangement. The fact that the people are far from God at the moment of the prophecy is not due to God’s designs. It is due to the behaviour of the people themselves as we learn that the people themselves say, “Why do you let us wander O Lord, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?” The last line of the reading brings to the fore the sure promise of God’s abiding presence among his people. “Yet Oh Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands”. In terms of imagery, the reading recalls the paradisiacal situation of Eden when Adam, just formed from the earth, enjoys a certain close and harmonious relationship with God.

The psalm calls God a shepherd of Israel. Shepherding implies presence and the closeness of the shepherd to the flock. At this stage it might be apt to recall the words of Pope Francis at the Chrism Mass in the Vatican Basilica in April 2013 addressed to the priests, “Be shepherds with the smell of the sheep”. In a sense therefore, we can say that God is so close to his people such that even his scent, his smell, is exactly the same as the scent of his people. In the same psalm, God is also presented as an agriculturalist who takes a keen interest in his vineyard. As people living in Swaziland, we are familiar with farming and as such the image of God as a farmer should not be too strange to us. Any farmer who stays away from his animals or his fields does not benefit much and yet s/he who pays attention to them yields a lot more. As a people, we belong to God’s flock and field. God is an excellent farmer. He keeps us safe, feeds and prunes us so that we may give an abundant yield of blessings.

St. Paul has plentiful good wishes for the Corinthians using his signature greeting, “grace to you and peace from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ”. Worth noting are the gifts that God has bestowed upon the Corinthians in such a way that he foresees them as lacking nothing on spiritual gifts. In this way, they are able to stand firm right up to the end. As we prepare for Christmas, it is imperative that we all notice the many gifts that God has given us. This is a time of thanksgiving, thanking God for the gift of his grace and peace. Grace implies the gratuitous gift of God that allows a person to live a happy and joyful spiritual life. On the other hand, peace implies more than the absence of violence and war but also gaining material possessions, good food and drink, good health and good relations with our neighbours as well. As a matter of fact, in a situation of hunger, still prevalent in many parts of Swaziland, we can thus never speak of a peaceful Swaziland. Let us endeavour therefore to share the spiritual and material gifts that the Lord, in his goodness and kindness, has placed at our disposal.

The gospel is placed at the end of the so called apocalyptic section of the gospel of Mark (Chapter 13). Apocalyptic literature speaks to a situation of great suffering and seeks to highlight the fact that God is about to intervene and end the sufferings visited upon his people. In context therefore, the gospel follows the announcement of the destruction of the Temple, persecutions and the desolating sacrilege. Immediately after this text, we are presented with the plot to kill Jesus. So, the situation is very tense and in fact depressing. Yet, the believer is invited to take note and be watchful because God is near, God is in charge-“Be aware, keep alert”.

As we prepare for Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, let us be aware of the closeness of God who became man. The Incarnation, God becoming human, is a truth of our faith that expresses the presence of God in our midst. Those who have experienced God’s presence in their lives are invited to share this experience with their relatives, neighbours and friends who have not had this great privilege. In these days of hunger, loneliness and disease, we are more than aware that many people thus lack peace which is necessary for them to live in peaceful communion with God and neighbour.

Fr. Dumisani Vilakati