Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wednesday of the first week of Advent

Isaiah 25.6-10; Psalm 23 (22 LXX); Matthew 15.29-37

'On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast...It will be said on that day, "Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation"'.

There were two things that marked the nearness of Christmas for me as a child. The first was the arrival of my grandmother, my father's mother. The day I came home from school and saw my grandparents' car was almost as good as Christmas morning. The other was, of course, the food. I don't know whether we had a rule that egg nog was not to be consumed before the first Sunday of Advent, but a hot cupful, sprinkled with nutmeg, could never be enjoyed so thoroughly without a Christmas tree to admire.

I have often wondered about the way we celebrate Christmas: what does all this food have to do with the reason for our celebration? But somehow, looking at these texts together, it makes sense. The abundance and richness of the feast we share at Christmas should remind us of the feast for which we hope in Advent.

Isaiah describes in some detail the feast that the Lord will prepare, and the psalmist repeats the theme of its abundance--in the face of the evidence. God will provide, and God will save, however unlikely it may seem at the time. And then there's Jesus, confronted with a hungry crowd and very little food: satisfaction seems unlikely indeed. Yet all 'ate, and were satisfied'.

Not only that, though. The description of the feast, and the miracle of the loaves and fishes reminds me that God is both able and willing to save, even when salvation seems impossible. Looking at my own life, past and present, I see what seem to be insurmountable obstacles not to success or happiness, but to hope. Too often, I find myself standing in the crowd, feeling hungry, or walking in the shadows, feeling afraid. I forget the invitation to the Lord's table, I forget that I taste the feast Isaiah describes, every time I receive the Lord's body and blood.

I hope that this year, when I delight in chestnut stuffing and Christmas cake, I will remember the Lord who came, and gave himself to save us, and believe more deeply that he will come again in glory.

Monday, November 29, 2010

St Andrew, Apostle

Romans 10.9-18; Psalm 19.8-11 (18 LXX); Matthew 4.18-22

I admit that the first thing that struck me about the Mass readings was that the selection from Psalm 19 doesn't include the verse Paul quotes in the passage from Romans 10. I puzzled over it a bit, especially because the readings attest beautifully (if you read the whole Psalm) to the inclusiveness of the good news Jesus brings: the word goes out to all the earth, and all those who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. (I never did come to any conclusion about why those particular verses from the psalm are included in today's reading.)

I wonder whether there isn't something about the nets Peter and Andrew left behind that attests to the unimaginable breadth and depth of God's loving will, God's intention to save us. Usually, when I think about this story, I focus on the shift from catching fish to catching people. But looking at it in the context of the psalm and the reading from Romans, I find my attention drawn to the tools of the trade. In their new occupation, Andrew and Peter have to learn to cast a different kind of net, the gospel message Paul describes in Romans 10. And that net reaches to the ends of the earth.

But that's not the only thing about the gospel reading that changes for me as I look at it from a different angle: reading it on St Andrew's day reminds me how prone I am to seeing the task of being a 'fisher of people' as a task for St Peter and St Paul. Theirs is the place in the spotlight, theirs the gifts of preaching and leading others to faith in Christ. Teaching in a theological college, I find myself surrounded by those possessed of just such gifts, and many who are in the process of developing them--and I am quite happy to stay behind the lectern. In Matthew's gospel, though, Jesus isn't just talking to Peter. He's talking to Andrew as well. It isn't just the good news of salvation that reaches the ends of the earth: the call to be disciples after the example of Jesus' first disciples is for all Christians.

And why not? After all, the shepherds themselves teach us that the news of Jesus' coming is not to be kept quiet: 'they made known' what they had heard. I tend to think of discipleship primarily as following, but I wonder if maybe, just maybe, I might be missing a crucial element, if I fail to point to the master, and invite others to come and see.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Monday of the first week of Advent

The words the centurion says to Jesus are perhaps too familiar. 'I am not worthy to receive you', he says, and we repeat them in the Mass. I tend to think of these words as a statement about me, when in the context of the gospel, they form part of a declaration of faith in Jesus. The centurion's unworthiness is not the point. His belief that Jesus can and will heal his servant is the astounding thing about him.

And yet the words perhaps ought to sound different in Advent. In the early church, one of the questions that skeptics asked about Christianity was whether it was fitting for God to become human. The transcendent God, so the objection ran, would not (should not) have become so intimately involved in the messy, material world of human bodies and emotions. To be born, to experience human need, to die--all these were thought somehow beneath God. But theologians in the first centuries of Christianity were emphatic: that is exactly what God did, without sacrificing transcendence or dignity. On the contrary, by taking flesh and dwelling among us the Word made possible our participation in the divine life. Our worthiness or unworthiness is not the point: in Advent we look forward to receiving Christ, knowing that as we receive Christ, God receives us.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord', Isaiah invites us. But I, at least, am weary. The year has worn me down, and the thought of a journey, especially an uphill climb, seems daunting. Projects and plans for the year remain unfinished, and time seems to be running out. I carry burdens collected in seasons past, now become a heavy load.

How can I possibly 'go up to the mountain of the Lord'? The exhortation of St Paul and the message--'watch!'--of the Gospel fail to move me.

But two things I remember. The first is that Isaiah's message doesn't end here. Inside my engagement ring is inscribed my husband's favorite verse: Isaiah 40.31. If Advent is a time of watching, it is also a time of waiting, waiting on the Lord. Fortunately the strength for this journey is not my strength. The second is that going up to the mountain of the Lord means returning joyfully, with the people of God. Advent is not a solo expedition; I neither watch nor wait alone. The invitation Isaiah issues is an invitation to join the community and to expect to receive the strength I need for the journey.