Today we begin the season of Advent.
A time to grow in serenity and to regain strength, to trust in the Lord’s presence near to us, and prepare ourselves to walk with greater hope.
The word “Advent”, which comes from the Latin Adventus, can be translated as presence, arrival, coming.
- With the word “Advent”, we want to express our faith in Jesus who came to us, born of the Virgin Mary, who will come one day at the end of history as the universal judge to establish the kingdom of God.
- With the word “Advent”, we want to express that God is here, that he lives with us, that he hasn’t withdrawn from the world and hasn’t left us alone.
Even if we can’t see him or touch him, as is the case with tangible reality, he is always close to us and comes to visit us in many ways. During Advent, we celebrate something very simple, but at the same time, it’s something very great: “the Lord is near” (Phil 4:5).
The time of Advent invites us to stop and be silent in order to capture this presence. It’s a time to understand that each day’s events are gestures of love that God makes to us, signs of his attention for each one of us. Advent is a privileged time to read Sacred Scripture and to listen to the words of the prophets who assure us that God is near. It’s also an opportune time to spend more time in prayer and to abandon our lives into God’s hands. That’s why this Sunday the first reading we’ve heard is one of the most wonderful and moving prayers in the Old Testament, found in the final chapters of the book of the prophet Isaiah (Cf. Is 63:16-17,19; 64:1-7).
A prophet — in the name of all the people — expresses the religious feelings of Israel at a difficult and dark moment of its history. The Israelites have returned from exile in Babylon and are preparing to rebuild the country. The city of Jerusalem and the Temple lie in ruins, the internal struggles between the different social factions are strong, poverty is rampant and the hope of the people is decreasing more and more. The discouragement is great and the efforts for the reconstruction of the nation seem useless. It is at this point that the prophet decides to raise this impressive prayer to God on behalf of all the people.
The prayer doesn’t begin by asking for anything. It begins with a confession of faith, which should always be the beginning of our prayer: “you are our Father!” (Is 63:16). God is our Father. In Him, we can trust without reservation, look at him, and invoke him without fear. Our Father God is the haven where we can put down our burdens and rest, certain that we will never be rejected.
To say “Father” is to evoke the origin, the homeland, the house, the heart in which we can place all that we are, the face to which we can look without fear in the certainty of always being welcomed, cared for, and forgiven.
Jesus never tired of speaking to us of God as a Father who loves us, cares for us, and “knows what we need” before asking Him (Cf. Mt 6:32). Jesus also taught us to begin our prayer by saying: “Our Father, who art in heaven” (Cf. Mt 6:9).
“Not even in the darkest and hardest moments of life are we orphans. God is our Father.” Bishop @silviojbaezTweet
- When all security falls away, when everything becomes dark and the future is full of uncertainty, one certainty remains: God is our Father and he is with us.
- When we are overwhelmed by failure, filled with fear, or have fallen into discouragement, one certainty remains: God is our Father and he doesn’t abandon us.
- When it seems impossible to build a more just society and we are weighed down by the weight of the struggle, we are left with one certainty: God is our Father and he is on our side in the effort to build a better world.
In his prayer the prophet not only invokes God as Father but also recognizes human failures and the sins of the people, saying: “We have all been like unclean things and our upright deeds like filthy rags. We wither, all of us, like leaves, and all our misdeeds carry us off like the wind.” (Cf. Is 64:5). Strong words to express the errors and evils of humanity. We are like filthy rags and dry leaves.
However, the prophet does not close himself up in despair in a dark past of guilt and infidelity; he opens himself up full of trust to a God who has always shown his love and fidelity, saying: “you will save us!” 1 “Never has anyone heard, no ear has heard, no eye has seen any god but you act like this for the sake of those who trust him.” (Is 64:3).
Then the prophet asks the Lord not to stay away, to come down from the heights and be present in the midst of the people. According to the symbolism of the ancient Middle East, God dwells “on high”, in “heaven”, as separated and hidden from men. It’s necessary that the firmament, conceived as a solid vault, should be torn apart to permit God to descend from the heights and come down to the earth.
That’s why the prophet prays, saying: “Oh, that you would come down, in your presence the mountains would quake!” (Is 64:2). It’s not the human being who has to climb up to heaven, but it’s God who descends to us. We don’t deserve God, we just have to welcome him. God can’t be conquered, he is to be hoped for.
The prayer ends with words similar to those at the beginning. The prophet again invokes God as Father: “you are our Father; we the clay and you our potter” (Is 64:7). We are like clay in God’s hands.
Like a loving potter, he holds, cares for, and repairs over and over again the clay of our existence however dirty or brittle it may be.
We may think that our clay is of poor quality, that we break easily, or that we are hard to form. In the hands of the great Artist of love, who is God, any human clay can become an extraordinary work of art that God creates throughout our lives.
Today’s Gospel says that life is like one long night. It even lists its tiring stages: “evening, midnight, cockcrow, or dawn” (Mk 13:35). In the midst of the darkness, tedium, and uncertainty of this night, the Lord always comes to us. He will come one day at the end of history, but he comes from this moment on in the dark nights of life. He comes with a Father’s love, as a friend who understands us, as a mother who loves us tenderly. He never leaves us alone.
The time of searching for God is over and the time of welcoming God has begun. That is why Jesus invites us to be on our guard and to “stay awake” (Mk 13:33,35,37).
God doesn’t want us to be asleep in indifference, foolishness, or mediocrity. He doesn’t want us to be dominated by pessimism, fear, or disillusionment. The future may seem dark, the tasks before us may be immense, but the Lord is with us to show us the way, to give us courage in difficult moments, and to preserve us from all evil.
“Staying awake” means awakening our faith — to seek God in our lives, welcoming him in the events of every day.
- Let’s not be conformist, nor let our hearts be hardened.
- Let’s not stop fighting for a society that is more just and humane.
- Let’s not let the desire be extinguished in us to care for others promptly and with love.
- Let’s be glad for the light that already appears at the end of this tunnel we call a pandemic.
- Let’s be grateful for the smiles of our friends and welcome the good that life gives us.
We have to care about all of this. Staying awake, without being distracted or falling asleep. Everything is a sign of God-with-us. Everything is a caress from the God who loves us and is always coming to us.
Silvio José Báez, O.C.D.
Auxiliary Bishop, Archdiocese of Managua
Homily, First Sunday of Advent
29 November 2020
1 Bishop Báez notes: “The final Hebrew verb is נִוָּשֵׁעַ — the imperfect plural form of yasha‛ (to deliver, to save), indicating future action, ‘to be delivered’. Furthermore, this is the Niphal form of the verb, which expresses a passive action. However, I consider that the subject of that action is God. It isn’t a question; rather, it’s a statement indicating that ‘we will be delivered by God’; more precisely: ‘You will save us’.”
All scripture references are from the New Jerusalem Bible, copyright 1985, Doubleday, Garden City, N.Y., as accessed from bibliocatolica.com.br