Sunday Sermon for, November 29, 2020, the First Sunday of Advent, Year B

Readings: Is 63:16b-17, 19b, 64:2-7; 1 Cor 1:3-9; Mk 13:33-37

In the Gospel reading our Lord tells us something of great importance.  Of course, since everything He said is the Word of God, it is all of great importance.  However, the last line in the Gospel is not spoken only to those who believe. Indeed, our Lord says: “What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”

The Scriptures are meant for everyone, but not everyone will accept God, our Lord, or their holy Word.  But this call to watch, rather, this command to watch is given to everyone whether they believe or not.  For what are we to watch?  The context of the passage suggests it is to watch for the return of the Master.  He has given to each of us the tasks He expects us to fulfill, always being prepared in case the Master arrives in the next few moments.

However, the Church has also coupled the Gospel reading for today with the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah.  In that reading we hear the prayers of God’s people as they implore Him to intervene in their situation.  This passage was originally written around the time of the Babylonian exile during which time the people of Israel were tested to determine whether or not they would remain faithful to the Lord in very difficult circumstances. 

In their prayer, the people acknowledged they were in trouble because of their own sins.  Still, they call out to God for help.  They not only confess their sinfulness, but also their exhaustion.  Now, those who are trying to remain faithful to the Lord are experiencing the feeling of being abandoned by God.  In the midst of all this, the people continue to profess their faith in the Lord and they even recognize that God is using their circumstances to make them holy: “…we are the clay and you the potter; we are all the work of your hands.”

The Divine Potter is working the clay, molding it into the form He desires.  Sin has disfigured the original form God had made, so now God is using the circumstances to reconfigure His children so they will be like Him once again. 

Do we not find ourselves in a similar situation to what we hear about in the first reading?  In the midst of the testing we have been undergoing, many have walked away from the Lord.  What has befallen us is due to sin and God is preparing His people to rise up in holiness and reclaim what is rightfully the Lord’s.  In the meantime, God has allowed us to run amuck and, as if we could not mess things up badly enough for ourselves, the Lord has allowed Satan and his minions a lot of latitude to cause trouble in the Church and in the world.

Those who are trying to remain faithful are asking when the Lord will intervene.  They are experiencing the fatigue due to being worn down by the circumstances of their lives.  They are being tested and prepared for the greatest outpouring of grace humanity has ever known.  We will see the Lord doing great things in our day, but will we remain faithful and watch?  When we speak of remaining faithful, we must understand this to mean not only remaining faithful in what we believe, but in doing the work the Lord has asked us to fulfill.

In the second reading St. Paul tells us God has enriched us in every way and that we are not lacking in any spiritual gift.  As God, the Divine Potter, continues to form us, we may feel weak and abandoned.  This means He can be strong in us, if we are willing to allow Him to do so.  Recall that God told St. Paul that power reaches its perfection in weakness.  If we will rely on the Lord, St. Paul says He will keep us firm until the end and make us irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

If He is the One forming us through the circumstances of our lives, He has certainly not abandoned us.  How can the clay think the potter has abandoned it when his thumb is being pushed into it?  Clearly, the potter is right there if he is still working the clay.  We need to pray for the grace to recognize the Lord working in our lives and to have the grace and humility to cooperate with Him.

So, now we can see yet another meaning of the command to watch: watch the Lord transform us from sinners into Saints.  In this way we see the Lord is very much at work in the world right now, preparing His people for a more extraordinary intervention in the world.  If we remain faithful and watch, we will see great things.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.

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