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First Sunday of Advent (B)

The Word This Week

Advent opens with a great cry, and a great promise: “Oh that you would tear the heavens open and come down!” is the cry, of a people who need God. “...The master is coming” is the promise, not to breed fear, but to answer our cry. Advent begins, not with thoughts of the past, with the coming of the Lord we celebrate at Christmas, but with the future, and the promise that He is coming back. We are encouraged to treat every day as the day the Lord will come; we do not do this out of fear for a Master who beats his servants, but out of love of a Master who always treats us with love and mercy. Nevertheless we must always be watchful, because we can grow sleepy and complacent, saying that we can leave this prayer or that confession or the other change in the way we live to tomorrow. Even as we look forward to the tomorrow of the Lord’s coming, we must remember that it might be today!

Notes for Readers

First Reading: Isaiah 63:16-17; 64:1.3-8.

This is a great prayer and cry, of confession, of trust and hope. There are four parts: first we have the cry or pleading of the prophet - almost upbraiding God for his absence. The reader must allow the “Why ?” on line 3 to ring out - and then the same is true of the single, dramatic word “Return !” on line 5. Then the wonderful and powerful line: “Oh, that you would tear the heavens open...”; the power of this line will come from the reader’s emphasis. (Use the “Oh !” when you read – don’t be apologetic about it!) Secondly, we have a section which praises God for his Presence (“No ear has heard...”) Pause slightly before the change of tone, and perhaps speak a little more gently. Then we have the confession of faults: (“You were angry...”) perhaps a tone of sadness and regret would help to carry the meaning here. Finally, the last three lines are gentle affirmation of the reason for our hope: “you are our Father.” The reading ends on a tone of positive confidence.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9.

As usual with Saint Paul, it is worth reading this passage out loud a couple of times in preparation - most of the second paragraph is a single sentence, and so is very difficult to read and to listen to! Look for the reason for this reading appearing on the First Sunday of Advent: the key phrase is “...waiting for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed...”. This is what we are doing. The reading reminds us that God offers us help while we wait - the gifts of the Spirit, and his sustaining care. This reading is encouraging. Be every careful with the last part of the reading: you may wish to read it like this: “and he will keep you steady and without blame / /until the last day - // the day of our Lord Jesus Christ - // because God, // by calling you, // has joined you to his Son, Jesus Christ; // and God is faithful” Make those last four words especially powerful, by pausing slightly before them and delivering them with a tone of quiet confidence. This reading is important because the tone of comfort is the other side of the coin to the slightly threatening Gospel reading - we must stay awake, but God will help us!