1st Sunday of Advent, cycle A

27th November

The book of Isaiah as it is called in the Bible, is an extensive edited collection of writings that are drawn from at least three different time periods. Using the division of chapters and verses introduced in the 13th and 16th centuries respectively, the first 39 chapters are from the earliest period when the prophet Isaiah lived, namely the last half of the 8th century BC. From this section our first reading (Isaiah 2:1-5) expresses in its own way the vision of the glorious future that they believed God had planned for His creation. The significant political situation at this time is that Judah and its capital city Jerusalem were under threat from other nations. Isaiah, as a court prophet, must have been aware of this as well as of the religious situation. His religious belief was that God (that is to say their god) had chosen them to be the greatest nation of all, expressed at this time as the expectation that Jerusalem would eventually be the focus for all the nations. And so the visionary poem that is our text, is an expression of hope that all the nations will submit to the Law and together rejoice under Jerusalem’s supremacy in the worship of God. The climax of the vision is that there will be peace among all nations expressed poetically as “turning swords into ploughs and spears into pruning hooks.” However, with a different theological hope and at a different time the prophet Joel wants the nations to prepare for war because God is going to attack them for all the trouble they have caused against Israel, His beloved nation.

In the second reading (Rom 13:11-14) it seems clear that things are not too good for the Christians in Rome, to whom the letter is addressed. Chapter 12 of Romans starts a section dealing with the End Time, and there was enough persecution under emperor Claudius (41-54 AD) and also under Nero (54-68 AD) to give the impression to Christians that the end of this world was at hand. Paul’s letter is his exposition of the good news that others were later to express in narrative form as Gospels. The message is “Do not be conformed to this age but be transformed” (Rom 12:2). In some way, for Paul the time is already with us, especially since we have been baptised – when we first believed; so now we must live in a changed way. A good example of this required transformation is found in the Confessions of St Augustine, who was very much attached to the ‘secular’ world and couldn’t tear himself away. But then came the turning point in his life when he read the last two verses of our text.

In today’s gospel reading from (Mt 24:37-44) we have a section of what is written about the second coming of the Son of Man. Parts of it appear to be taken from Mark and other parts from another document (sometimes called Q) that Luke also used. Matthew’s well-structured gospel has five extended discourses attributed to Jesus and this is part of the last one. It seems that the people at the time of Noah are said to be just going about their daily business and not thinking of anything else; yet according to the Genesis story, the people at the time were wicked, so much so that God regretted having created them. So the message for us is simply about being aware of the world of God in our ordinary day to day living; and so to live upright lives, and hence be ready when the expected judgment comes. Two people can appear to both be living ordinary lives, but one can be aware of the proximity of God in his world – hence it says “one will be taken, one will be left.”

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