Sunday reflection by Very Reverend Stephen E. Salocks, Rector of Saint John's Seminary - November 27, 2020
“Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face, and we shall be saved.” (Responsorial Psalm 80)
Today, on the First Sunday of Advent, a new Church year begins. We come to a season of watching and waiting. We look back on how and where Christ has met us in the last Christian year and see the ways we need to repent and to acknowledge the ways that God is calling us to respond once again to His call and to grow closer to Him and one another. This is the time to pray for new beginnings, and to ask God for increased courage, for more patience, and especially for a greater share of the virtues of faith, hope, and love. Through it all, the prayers and scriptures of Advent help us adopt the proper stance or posture of faithful watching and waiting – and to realistically engage the season's discipline.
Isaiah gives us our prayer as he speaks to the Israelites coming back from exile and feeling that God has abandoned them. Sensing the people’s longing for God to come once again into their lives with healing and restoration, Isaiah prays for and with the people, “Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways… Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down… Would that you might meet us doing what is right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!” Isaiah’s prayer acknowledges God’s mighty actions in the past and expresses hope that God will again act on the Israelites behalf. The prayer acknowledges the peoples’ sinfulness and their need to repent. With the closing verse, “We are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands,” Isaiah’s prayer expresses the trust we all need to have as we wait and watch for God’s advent.
Jesus, building on Isaiah’s prayer, gives us our course of action in Advent. Teaching his disciples, Jesus gives them the example of the servants who continue to do their work and, at the same time, are alert and on the watch for the master’s return. Disciples cannot miss the emphatic tone of Jesus’ words: “stay awake… if he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep…Stay awake!” And while the warning is addressed in the first instance to those disciples who are with Jesus, by the end of the teaching, it is clear that the message is addressed “to all” Jesus’ disciples then and now. As Advent begins, we hear our Lord calling us to be alert and watchful.
Lastly, Saint Paul gives us a hopeful attitude in Advent as he reminds the Corinthians and us that everything that happens for our good relies on God’s initiative and faithfulness. We are not left alone as we wait for the Lord’s coming, and we want to make every effort to rely on and trust in God’s grace to keep us faithful, “… not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul will go on in that same First Letter to the Corinthians to show how the love and gifts God gives are to be manifested in our lives by the way we share and help build up others in the community. His words resonate well with last Sunday’s Gospel where the sheep were favored because of their service of the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned. When we give care and service to the needy, we are offering it to Christ.
Today, we pray that this Advent will be full of opportunities to turn our face to God and know His salvation. As we watch, wait, hope, and pray for our Lord’s return, may we be aware of the ways God renews his grace, peace, and holiness in our lives.