Sunday Sermon for November 30, 2014, the First Sunday of Advent, year B

Readings: Is 63:16b-17, 19b, 64:2-7; 1Cor 1:3-9; Mk 13:33-17
In the first reading today we hear of the conflict that has tormented humanity from the very beginning. The problem is that we blame God for everything. Isaiah cries out to God in a lament “Why do You let us wander, O Lord, from Your ways and harden our hearts so that we fear You not?” Return for the sake of Your servants.” There is the clear acknowledgement that we have wandered from the Lord and that we have hardened our hearts against Him, but then the blame is placed squarely on the Lord for allowing it to happen in the first place.

As I mentioned, this has been a problem for humanity from the beginning. When Adam fell in the Garden he blamed it on God: “It was the woman You gave me.” Our first parents wanted to accept no responsibility for their actions. In part, Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the serpent, but the fact that Adam says that it is God’s fault for creating Eve places the onus solely on God.

Getting back to Isaiah’s situation, after stating that we have wandered from God and that we have hardened our hearts against Him, he has the gall to say that God has to return. It was not God Who wandered from His people; it was the people who had wandered from God. I suppose, that since Isaiah was blaming God for the problem in the first place, it makes sense that he is making it God’s responsibility to return to the people instead of the people having to return to God.

Thankfully, by the time we get to St. Paul, he acknowledges that God is faithful. This being the case, we cannot blame God, so it forces us to have to take responsibility. This is exactly what Jesus tells us in the Gospel: we are to watch. The gatekeeper is not going to be able to notice someone coming toward the gate if he is being irresponsible and looking somewhere else. If he is going to be watchful and fulfill his duty, he has to be looking outward in the direction that someone would be coming if they were approaching the gate. The implication in the Gospel, however, is not that he is to be looking for just anyone, but that he is to be dutifully watching for his mater’s return.

Jesus tells us that we are to watchful and alert. Have we been? Too many of us have fallen prey to the distractions around us and we have taken our eyes off of the path where our Lord would be approaching when He arrives. Too many of us have become slack in our Christian duty, so we are not alert to the advances of our Lord.

Beyond being watchful and alert, the Church gives to us in the second reading St. Paul’s call for us to be irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. I do not think many of us can claim that we are irreproachable. This is also the reason why we are not watchful and alert. We have given ourselves over to sinful things and have turned the eyes of our hearts away from the Lord and put them on ourselves and on our desires.

In his point about God being faithful, St. Paul says that God has called you to fellowship with His son, Jesus Christ. How important is that fellowship to you? We generally like the idea of being a member of Jesus, just as the Jewish people liked the idea of being the People of God. But they their hearts wandered even as they gave lip service to God. It even got to the point that they no longer cared that they were the People of God, because they no longer identified themselves with God. This is exactly what is happening to so many people today. They have strayed so far that they no longer even give lip service to the Lord because He is not even part of their reality any more.

Later in the first reading Isaiah changes his tune and no longer blames God. He says that the people are sinful, that no one calls upon the Name of the Lord and that no one rouses himself to cling to God. Finally, he comes to the point of hope when he says to God “You are our Father.” Our only hope is to admit our sinfulness and rouse ourselves by recalling the relationship we have with God. We have to forsake our ways, confess our sins, and keep our focus on God. Only then will we realize that God is faithful. He has never wandered from us; we have wandered from Him. He does not need to return to us, we need to return to Him.

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