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Oh Lord, rend the Heavens!

November 30, 2014
Titus Destroying Jerusalem by Wilhelm von Kaulbach

Titus Destroying Jerusalem by Wilhelm von Kaulbach

A reflection for the 1st Sunday, Advent year B. The readings are Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7, Psalm 80, Corinthians 1:3-9 and Mark 13:33-37.

I was at a high school last Friday and I noticed how different the students behave when the teacher is not in the room; even if there is a guest speaker. (Sometimes they are better behaved without the teacher!) And I remembered when I was in High School. We were a very close group of about 30 students in my class; most of us had been together since kindergarten and we were tight. We covered for each other. If ever we were without a teacher and for some reason we were up to something that we didn’t want the teacher to know about, we would put someone on watch. We had a teacher who would give us an exam and then he would leave the room. Undoubtedly some people (not me!) would cheat. But the only way they could get away with it, was if someone kept watch. Don’t want the teacher coming in to catch you doing something you’re not supposed to be doing, or not doing what you’re supposed to be doing.

Last week, also, I was watching a documentary about World War I (since it’s the 100th anniversary this year) and the story was about a 19-year old French soldier who had been given the night watch at the trenches and had fallen asleep. But despite the pleadings of his commander, who said that it was his own fault – he shouldn’t have given this young tired man the night watch – the young soldier was court-martialed and sentenced to the firing squad. Apparently the French army did this a lot. They had to make an example of him, because you can’t fall asleep while you’re on night watch – not during a war!
Today we begin the season of Advent and every year, on the first Sunday of Advent we hear these warnings: don’t fall asleep; stay awake; be alert; don’t want to get caught off guard – it’s like we’re being threatened: “Do what you’re supposed to do, or else!” Don’t want the teacher catching you not doing what you’re supposed to be doing.

But why be afraid? Shouldn’t we be looking forward with anticipation to the coming of God? The opening prayer today (do you pay attention to the opening prayer?) asks that we have the “resolve to run towards Christ” who is coming. How do you fall asleep when you’re excited about someone who’s coming?

Today’s first reading is from the Book of Isaiah. Every Advent we hear from Isaiah because most of the prophecies about the Messiah are from Isaiah. Isaiah was writing to the Jews during the time of the Babylonian exile. Remember that the Jews were conquered by the Babylonians and most of them were exiled. This was the lowest period in Jewish history: They’d lost their land, their kingdom, their king, their temple had been destroyed and they felt that even God had abandoned them. And Isaiah is always saying that this happened because they abandoned God, but that things would get better if they changed their ways. But today even Isaiah is complaining. He complains to God: “Why have you abandoned us?” And he blames God for their misfortune: “Why did you let us wander? Why did you harden our hearts?” And don’t we do that all the time too? We blame God for our problems? Then Isaiah says something beautiful: “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down….” Oh that you would rip open the heavens, tear open the heavens and come down. Come, oh Lord, and mold us, for “you are the potter and we are the clay.”

And that’s exactly what happened. God ripped open the heavens and came down. God did exactly what today’s Psalm is asking him to do: “rouse your power and come to save us.” That’s what we are going to be celebrating in about four weeks. God came down as Jesus Christ and destroyed death forever so that you and I could have eternal life. That’s the Good News.

Today’s Gospel reading is from Mark. We begin the new liturgical year, year B and so all the Gospel readings this year are from Mark. Jesus in the Gospel is speaking about two different things. He has just told the disciples that the temple will be destroyed and the disciples ask when that will happen. He tells them the signs and that when they recognise those signs they should flee the city. In fact, most Christians survived the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 because they did as Jesus had told them to do: They fled into the hills and did not turn back (which is why Jerusalem did not become the centre of Christianity, but Antioch). The Gospel of Mark was written around the same time the temple was destroyed so it makes sense that these passages are written the way they are written. But Jesus also adds that in the end, “the Son of Man will come on a cloud” (quoting the Prophet Daniel 7:13). The people at the time of Mark truly believed that Jesus would be returning very soon; that the end was near. They longed for that with great anticipation. But Jesus adds that the time or hour no one knows, not even he; only the Father. The point is that we shouldn’t be dwelling on when the end will be. We need to continue living our Christian lives, staying awake to recognise Jesus when He comes to us daily.

But it’s hard to do that, when it’s been 2000 years and still Jesus has not returned. It’s easy then, to become discouraged and distracted. It’s easy to move on to other things, forgetting about God, or like the Jews in Babylon, complaining to God for not coming to mold us like the potter molds the clay.

St. Paul (who also believed that the second coming was imminent) tells the Corinthians that we are able to wait because we are not lacking in any spiritual gift; that it is Christ himself who will keep us firm until the end. That means that we need to stand firm and continue doing what we are suppose to be doing and not worry about the end.

And what are we supposed to be doing? Very simple. We have one mission: Go and proclaim the Good News. Go and make disciples. That’s it. Don’t fall asleep. Don’t get distracted. Don’t be discouraged. Don’t complain to God: Go and make disciples. And don’t do it because you are worried about being caught not doing what you’re supposed to be doing, but because, as Paul says, “God is faithful and by him we are called to fellowship with Jesus Christ.” Do it because it’s Good News! Don’t worry about the end times. Don’t even worry about your own death. Worry instead about the end of today. How did you live today? Did you recognise Jesus as he came to you today? Did you recognise him today in the stranger, in the Word and in the Eucharist?

Let me leave you with a little homework. This is something that we should all be doing every day, but if you start now for Advent, maybe you’ll get good at it and will continue throughout the year. St. Ignatius calls it the “examen”. We have to examine our lives every day.
Here’s how to do it: At the end of the day, take 10 minutes. Collect your thoughts in quiet. Thank God for the blessings of the day. Not only for the obvious things, but for all the little things we take for granted: that we are alive; that we have air to breathe and food to eat; that even though we were stuck in traffic, at least our car was running; that our families are well. Then ask God for light. Ask him to give you the light so you may see and love this day as he sees and loves it. Then think about your day. Mentally go through your day thinking about what you did and did not do; what you said or didn’t say and how you said it. Where are the moments of selflessness and the moments of selfishness? When were you thinking about others and when were you only thinking about yourself? When did Jesus come to you today? Did you recognise him? Spend a little time doing that. Don’t make a big deal out of it; just go through what you remember of the day. Then thank Jesus for coming to you today and for the times of selflessness. Ask for forgiveness for the times you didn’t recognise him and for the times of selfishness. Then ask for the Grace that you need so that you can do better tomorrow.

If we do this, we will quickly find that indeed, every day, the heavens are torn open and God comes down. And he has been molding your life. For He is the potter and we are the clay.

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From → English, Reflections

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