"You, LORD, are our father...Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage. Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you..." (Is 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7)
Advent quietly begins in our Church this weekend as the world noisily prepares for Christmas. The altar is modestly decorated with the advent wreath and shades of purple to remind us that this is a penitential season in which we slowly build up towards the great Feast of the Nativity. We aren't as glamorously decorated like shopping malls because as a Church we first have to strip everything bare and get rid of all the clutter in our hearts to make way for the coming of our Savior. The decorations will slowly build as we grow closer to Christmas as will our hearts as we listen to the words of Isaiah and John the Baptist who urge us to prepare for the Messiah. Today, it is Isaiah who voices the desire of the people of Israel who long for a Savior. That longing might as well be each one of us as we look around us and see how much our world needs Jesus Christ.
Let's break down that beautiful first reading which is a cry from the Israelites who recognize their sinfulness and their need for help from above:
You, LORD, are our father
They begin correctly by recognizing their God as Father which makes them His children. We turn to our fathers in times of need, when we need protection, deliverance, and comfort. Calling God Father also reminds us that in his eyes we are still children trying to find our way back to him and that we constantly need his guidance.
Return for the sake of your servants...
Now comes the cry for deliverance. This is the cry of a desperate people who have been knocked down and defeated over and over again. This is a people that looks at the world around them and realizes that there only hope can come from heaven. Many of us have probably had a difficult year, a year that we would rather just forget, because of different problems that have overwhelmed us from every side. We feel like the world is trying to bring us down, but in the distance we see that one sign of hope, that tiny flickering light that much like that first lit candle of advent reminds us that Christ will indeed come to save us. He will pull us out of the quagmire of the world and lift us on his shoulders as a shepherd would do with the tiniest of his lambs. So many of us feel so burdened by our every day problems that we should, in fact, we must take comfort in the knowledge that Jesus is coming.
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you,
Israel wanted the Messiah to come like a mighty warrior with fear and trembling and with powerful deeds to make his presence known. But that is not how Jesus entered our world. He came in the silence of a manger in Bethlehem. God's will usually runs contrary to our own, for he always surprises us and brings not only what we hope for, but so much more than we could possibly imagine.
Yet, O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.
The cry of the people comes full circle as they once again call God their Father, but now they use the beautiful image of the clay and the potter. If we do indeed want true deliverance, then we must totally surrender to the hands of our God who like a potter would mold and fashion us into the image of Christ. This is why Jesus comes into the world: to teach us how to be human, to restore what we had lost to sin, and to restore the dignity we have in being created in God's image and likeness. One of the prefaces of the Mass during Ordinary Time asks the Father to see and love in us what he sees and loves in his Son, Jesus Christ. The Father sends his Son not only to rescue us, but to make us like him, to give us a share in his divinity and to make us shine as brightly as the Christmas star.
"Watch!" our Lord tells us in the gospel. So many years we fall in the trap of letting advent go by and not being fully prepared for the Messiah when Christmas comes. May we start today by surrendering totally to our Father in heaven who has heard the plea of his people and is ready to "deliver us from evil" through a child, his Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.