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Friday, 1 December 2017

First Sunday of Advent Year B 2017

1st. Sunday of Advent (B)

(Isaiah 63:16-17, 19b; 64:1, 3-8; 1st. Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37) 

Our reading from the prophet Isaiah on this, the first Sunday of the Advent season, is a direct preparation for what is the supreme teaching of the Gospel and the ultimate realization and fulfilment of the purpose for which Jesus the Christ came among us as man: namely, the revelation of God as Father, and the re-birth by the Holy Spirit, of Jesus’ faithful disciples as living members of His Mystical Body and adopted children of the heavenly Father.

In our first reading Isaiah referred to God three times as Father, twice in the following verse:

You are our Father.  Were Abraham not to know us, nor Israel to acknowledge us, You, LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer you are named from of old.  

Isaiah was very conscious and equally proud of the fact that God was a Father to Israel; yet, what did he mean by that word ‘Father’? 

Let us now turn our attention to the Law, to the book of Deuteronomy, source of the fountain which supported and inspired Isaiah, and there we read:

Of the Rock Who begot you, you are unmindful, and have forgotten the God Who fathered you.    (Deuteronomy 32:18)

Then it continues in the name of the Lord (32: 21, 28):

They have provoked Me to jealousy by what is not God, but I will provoke them to jealousy by those who are not a nation; they are a nation void of counsel.

So, though the word ‘father’ is used, and even backed-up by the words ‘begot’ and ‘fathered’, nevertheless they are all used metaphorically, since it is all about the birth, that is, the calling, formation, and establishment of a nation from those who had previously been wandering desert tribespeople and latterly a persecuted minority of slaves in Egypt.  That is why when for the third time the word ‘father’ is used in our reading from Isaiah we hear:

O LORD, You are our Father; we are the clay and You the potter: we are all the work of Your hands.
Obviously, Isaiah did not realize the full significance of the word ‘father’; and though he said: ‘You are our Father, our Redeemer you are named forever’, he showed more precisely what he meant with the word ‘father’ in the words that followed: ‘You are our Father, our potter’.   So we have it: the prophet himself was not, and could not be, fully aware of the meaning and sublime significance of the word he was being led to use when calling God the Father of Israel.

Nevertheless, as St. Paul said to his Christian converts at Corinth in our second reading:

God is faithful, by Whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yes, God in His faithfulness guided His Chosen People over hundreds, indeed thousands, of years – surely that is one of the deepest reasons for our loving and trusting Him – and, having thus gradually formed Israel as a nation, He latterly encouraged them through His prophets, Isaiah above all, to refer to Himself by a word they could not as yet, fully appreciate. He then further guided His People and gradually formed their history so that those words of prophecy and traditional faith were finally shown to be true in the sublime beauty of their fullest meaning and significance when He brought about through Mary of Nazareth, the Flower of Israel, the birth in time of His only begotten and eternally beloved Son, as Son of Man, Jesus of Nazareth, for mankind’s salvation.

Yes, God sent His co-equal Son in fulfilment of the words of the prophet to save His People and all mankind from Satan’s power of sin and death.  Through faith in, baptism into, and obedience to Jesus -- the Son of God become our Brother -- we are enabled by the Gift of His Holy Spirit to become living members of the Unique Body of which Jesus is both Lord and Head, and in Him to become children of the One, true God and Father of us all.  That, dear People of God, is why you heard St. Paul exclaim in the second reading:

I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus.

As we are now entering upon a new Church year, it is not only right and proper, but surely also most helpful and beneficial, for us to be aware of the ultimate goal of our life in Jesus under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which is, that we should truly become children of the Father. Moreover, it is not only Jesus and the Holy Spirit who are at work in us, leading us to the Father; no, the Father Himself comes to us, as Jesus promised:

          If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and           We will come to him and make Our home with him. (John 14:23)

The Father Himself, therefore, comes with Jesus and the Holy Spirit, to abide with us and make us His children in Jesus, and this He does in a way that is unique to Him, that is, by showing Himself to be the most perfect Father to us.

The Father can contact us -- if we will hear and listen -- because He, our Creating Father, speaks to us in the very centre of our being;  good parents share this ability, although only to a limited extent, which is why certain words and attitudes of our parents can remain with us throughout life.  However, since our creating Father is able to address us through unspoken words uttered in the depths of our personality, and because, in our early years we had not yet learned to recognize His traces, early experiences of such communication seem to originate within ourselves and to be, unaccountably, ours: mysterious longings and desires, sudden lights and quiet convictions, protecting fears and simple assurance, all can seem to be very much a part of us because they come from the centre of our being; nevertheless, because they are, in fact, communications from the as yet unknown-to-us-Father, they remain inexplicable to us. The Father’s addressing us as His adopted children in Jesus only becomes intelligible to us by our walking in the ways of Jesus and thus beginning to share in His infinitely sensitive awareness of and responsiveness to His Father’s abiding Presence and loving Providence.  When many apparently unrelated events and diverse incidents come to be seen and recognized as connected and coherent parts of one embracing Providential care protecting us from our own sinfulness and weakness; when parents and teachers, friends and personal talents, come to be understood as aspects of the Father’s Providence guiding us out of our native ignorance towards truth and fulfilment; and when the past gradually takes on an overarching shape that gives meaning and purpose, hope and expectation, to our life, then the Father’s now loved-and-appreciated Presence is able to reveal Itself to us in glimpses reflecting the beauty of His truth in the Scriptures and the splendour of His grace in Mother Church, where greater certitude arises from presence rather than proof, and deeper knowledge from experience rather than investigation.  Then, indeed, amazement stuns our mind, while love inflames our heart and restores our soul.
In ways such as these the Father can speak to us in any situation and throughout the whole extent of our life.  No earthly father or mother, no lover, no friend, can speak so intimately or be present to us in such a way; because He is the God who originally made us in His Own likeness for Himself.

Yet, much more than that; for He would be our All not only in our origins, but also in the end and ultimate justification of our being, because He wants to be for us the perfect Father, such a Father Whom only Jesus can reveal to us, for Whom only the Spirit can form us, and Whose Presence we can encounter only as living members of the mystical Body of Christ, our Brother and our Head.  He is indeed, and wills to be known by each one of us personally, as our sublime Father Who is always there, with us, in us, closer to us even than we are to ourselves; the Father Who gives us to Jesus and Who, in Jesus, forms us for Himself by the Spirit.

If we bear in mind that, in the Catholic and patristic tradition, the Son and the Holy Spirit have been spoken of, figuratively, as the hands of the Father, we are now in a position to understand the true significance of Isaiah’s words:

O LORD, You are our Father; we are the clay and You the potter: we are all the work of Your hands.

Understanding the significance of Isaiah’s words and realizing that they were pronounced hundreds of years before Jesus, we are also in a position to appreciate not only the loving providence and sublime wisdom of our God, but also the fact that, as the most perfect of Fathers, He has indeed loved us before we were born, and continues to love us in such a way and to such an extent that, in return, we most surely can commit ourselves to His infinite wisdom and goodness wherever life may lead us or death o’ertake us, ever beseeching the Holy Spirit to inflame and inspire us in Jesus to echo, in perfect harmony, His sublimely Filial love, thanks, and praise to His Father and our Father.