For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections on the day’s Scripture readings by two New Ways Ministry staff members: Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder. The liturgical readings for the First Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 63: 16-17, 19; 64:2-7; Psalm 80: 2-3, 15-16, 18-19; 1 Corinthians 1: 3-9; Mark 13: 33-37. You can read the texts by clicking here.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Advent originally was a 40 day fast that helped Christians to prepare for Christmas. While most Catholics have dropped the penitential fasting, we have retained a mood of sober reflection. In the excitement of shopping and planning holiday parties, the readings for the first Sunday of Advent – in particular, the first reading by Isaiah — give us a space to reflect briefly on our need for God’s extravagant love.
Isaiah mourns the sinfulness of his people. He claims they have strayed so far from God that they are like “withered leaves” without life and that their “good deeds are like polluted rags.” But “no ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen” such greatness as God. Isaiah praises God’s true greatness by starting and ending his lament with the bold proclamation that God remains the people’s loving parent despite their hardened hearts. Though the people stray from righteousness, God waits with outstretched arms to embrace them like a father or mother would embrace a beloved child.
In a similar vein, Pseudo-Dionysius, a 6th century Christian author, creates a humbling picture of God’s extravagant love and desire for relationship with us as revealed through Jesus:
“Jesus clings lovingly to those who even depart from him… [He] makes excuses for them, and further promises to serve them, and runs towards and meets even those who hold themselves aloof… when his entire self has embraced their entire selves, he kisses them, and does not reproach them for former things, but rejoices over the present, and holds a feast, and calls together friends…”
I cannot help but to think of God’s extravagant love made manifest between human beings in the scene from Les Miserables where Valjean is given a meal and place to sleep by an elderly bishop. In the middle of the night, Valjean steals the bishop’s silver, strikes the old man when confronted, and flees into the darkness. When Valjean is apprehended the next morning and returned to the bishop’s residence, the bishop dismisses the police and helps Valjean to pack up the rest of the silver. The bishop realizes that, without an experience of extravagant mercy and love, Valjean has no hope to transform into someone better.
I think it is the same for us – without an experience of extravagant love, we have no hope to become better than we are. In the midst of making Christmas present lists and writing cards, perhaps each of us might reflect on how we have experienced God’s extravagant love in our own lives, give thanks for that experience, and, like the elderly bishop from Les Miserables, find ways to share that same love with others.
–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry