Sunday, 29 November 2020

Waiting for God to come among
us in the darkness of winter

‘We are the clay, and you are our potter’ (Isaiah 64: 8) … clay in a broken pot on a window ledge in Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 29 November 2020

The First Sunday of Advent (Advent I)


The Readings: Isaiah 64: 1-9; Psalm 80: 1-8, 18-20; I Corinthians 1: 3-9; Mark 13: 24-37.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

‘You have fed them with the bread of tears and, and given them tears to drink in full measure’ (Psalm 80: 5) … street art in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

The First Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of a new Church year, and we begin a new cycle of readings.

With the onset of winter, the sunsets are earlier each evening, and the sunrises are later each morning. So late that most mornings most of us are awake and having breakfast before the sunrise begins to dawn.

It is natural, as the year comes to an end, to think of final things and closing days. Earlier this month, we had All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day and Remembrance Sunday. At the end of November, at the beginning of Advent, we begin to think of the world as we know it giving way to the world as God wants it to be, to the Kingdom of God.

For many people in Ireland today, the future is full of uncertainties. It is only a few years since the government and economists were assuring us we had come out of the recession. Now, the pandemic and successive lockdowns have brought a new degree of financial insecurity, have stretched our health services to their very limits, have left many people isolated and showing symptoms of depression.

And we still have an incalculable number of homeless families – adults and children – living on our streets or in inadequate, cramped and unsuitable and unacceptable accommodation.

The major contributors to, causes of, poverty remain ill-health and inadequate access to housing, education and employment. Many ordinary people are living under mountainous burdens of debt, with uncertainty about paying bills, many families have no money left at the end of the month, leaving them unable to plan for the future and robbing them of hope.

For many families, large question marks now hang over their futures. They may feel they are being fed with the bread of tears and given the abundance of tears to drink referred to in the Psalm this morning (Psalm 80: 6), that they are to become the derision of their neighbours (Psalm 80: 7).

The word often used to describe these fears is apocalyptic – we talk of apocalyptic fears and apocalyptic visions. The first reading and the Gospel reading are classical apocalyptic passages in the Bible.

The first reading (Isaiah 64: 1-9) calls on God to come down and save his people. Yet they know their dependence on God:

Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.


In Advent, are we seeking God, and looking for his coming among us?

The psalm (Psalm 80) is a call on God in majesty to come and save the people, asking him to save us with his steadfast love, to deliver us and to care for us.

When we call on God for God’s help, are we prepared to live as though God is already present among us?

The reading from Saint Mark’s Gospel (Mark 13: 24-37) is part of what is sometimes known as the ‘Little Apocalypse.’

For the first readers of this Gospel passage, perhaps in Alexandria, their world is falling apart. They have heard of – perhaps had even seen – the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Perhaps they have been thrown out of the synagogues, have been disowned by friends they once worshipped with, have been disowned perhaps even by their closest family members, and they now face discrimination, loss of social standing, and perhaps even loss of income.

The world as they know it is coming to an end. In words in the first reading, they saw their heaven and their earth torn apart (Isaiah 64: 1). And they, like us today, needed some reassurances of God’s love and we, like them, need some signs of hope.

But the tree bearing fruit is a sign that God promises new life. In darkness and in gloom, we can know that God’s summer is always new, there are always rays of hope and glimpses of love (Mark 13: 28).

And everywhere the messengers of God’s good news, the angels, appear in the Gospel, they almost always begin to speak with the words: ‘Be not afraid.’

These are the angel’s opening words to Zechariah in the Temple as he is about to be told of the imminent birth of John the Baptist (Matthew 1: 13).

These are the angel’s words to the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation (Luke 1: 30).

These are the angels’ opening words to the shepherds on the hillside on the first Christmas night (Luke 2: 10).

These are the angel’s opening words to Joseph wondering whether he is facing a future of disdain and a family disaster (Matthew 1: 20).

In days of woe and in days of gloom, the Church must be a sign of hope, a sign of love, a sign that if even if things are not going to be get better for me and for others in my own life time, God’s plan is that they should be better (Mark 13: 27, 31).

In a world that needs hope, in a world that is short on love, then the Church, above all else, must be a sign of hope, must be a sign of love. If we cannot love one another in the Church, how can we expect to find signs of hope and love in the world?

Advent calls us again to be willing to be clay in the hands of God who is our Father and who is the potter (Isaiah 64: 8), so that we can be shaped into his vessels of hope and of love, so that we can be signs of the coming Kingdom, so that our hope and our love give others hope and love too in the dark days of our winters.

Advent calls on us to create new space and to reorder our priorities. To be still. To experience some quiet. To be reminded who we are – God’s beloved children.

What would you do if the world were to end tomorrow? You do not need to wait. You can do those things now.

Finish the work you started. Be reconciled to those who need you. Be faithful to the people and tasks around you. Undertake some small and wonderful and great endeavour. Be a sign of hope. But most of all – love the ones you want to and ought to love.

Why not? For Christ has come, Christ is coming, and Christ will come again, in the name of love.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

If the world was going to end tomorrow, would you plant a tree? … old olive trees in an olive grove in Loutra in the hills above Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 13: 24-37 (NRSVA):

24 [Jesus said:] ‘But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

26 ‘Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

28 ‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32 ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’

‘Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and to put on the armour of light’ … sunset and winter lights in Askeaton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Violet (Advent, Year B).

Penitential Kyries:

Turn to us again, O God our Saviour,
and let your anger cease from us.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Show us your mercy, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Your salvation is near for those that fear you,
that glory may dwell in our land.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and to put on the armour of light
now in the time of this mortal life
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

In the tender mercy of our God,
the dayspring from on high shall break upon us,
to give light to those who dwell in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1: 78, 79)

Preface:

Salvation is your gift
through the coming of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ,
and by him you will make all things new
when he returns in glory to judge the world:

The Post Communion Prayer:

God our deliverer,
Awaken our hearts
to prepare the way for the advent of your Son,
that, with minds purified by the grace of his coming,
we may serve you faithfully all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessing:

Christ the sun of righteousness shine upon you,
gladden your hearts
and scatter the darkness from before you:

‘Lo! he comes with clouds descending’ (Hymn 132) … sunset at ‘World’s End’ in Castleconnell, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

119, Come, thou long-expected Jesus (CD 8)
132, Lo! he comes with clouds descending (CD 8)

‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near (Mark 13: 28-29) … figs and leaves on a fig tree in Córdoba (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.



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