Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator
Though this is the first Sunday of the liturgical year, the first Sunday of Advent, it also represents something of a climax or completion. For the past few Sundays, we have been hearing passages from the Gospel of Matthew that speak of the future, the eschaton, the consummation of human history and the final coming of God's realm. The first Sunday of Advent brings those themes to a climactic conclusion.
The first reading from the Prophet Isaiah reveals a people, recently released from exile, but also despondent and mystified. They had just returned from Assyria, from the Babylonian captivity. On their way back to their homeland, feelings ran high. The prophecies that had kept their hopes alive for the generations of slavery to Assyria had been fulfilled. They had been released and the king had sent them home with permission to rebuild their temple, a dwelling place for their God. However, it didn't happen as they had expected. As we hear them in today's readings, the hard truth of their future has sunk in. They have not been returned to their former glory. Instead they must start from scratch. In addition to the realization of the hard work that lay ahead of them was the reality that some of their countrymen had decided not to return but had stayed in Assyria where "the livin' was easy." When they arrived in Israel, another hard truth confronted them. Those who had been left behind had intermarried with non-Jews, a step they had taken in order to preserve their survival. (This group became known as the Samaritans.)
This picture and the prayer that these people utter reminds us that while we have been released from the reign of sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus, we too are faced with the hard truth that the path that lies ahead is not exactly what the early Church expected. They had expected Jesus to return quickly. They had expected that Jesus' resurrection would mean that their struggle was over, that they could begin to experience the glories of the resurrection momentarily. Instead, they, like the returning Babylonians exiles, were confronted with the fact that not only was the road ahead of them long and arduous, but not everyone would persevere, not everyone would join them, not everyone would place their faith in the risen Lord Jesus. Indeed, although Jesus broke the chains of sin and death, there were some who insisted on being clothed in these shackles to which they had become accustomed.
So we begin another liturgical year. Once again we walk the path of Jesus' life from his birth to his death, resurrection and ascension. Once again we contemplate the cost of our faith, the cost of our discipleship. Once again, we join with the returning exiles in crying out, "Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus."