Friday, 7 December 2007

The First Week of Advent (2)

Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5 Romans 13:11-14 Matthew 24:37-44

A magnet to the nations
The idea is contained that Israel is a light to the nations and the Israelites are not told to go out and convert the nations but rather to attract them by their worship on Zion. In the world of this vision, all nations will come together to the central city of Jerusalem and thus will acknowledge the ultimate kingship of Yahweh. "All the nations will stream to [Zion], peoples without numbers will come to it and they will say: 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the Temple of the God of Jacob that he may teach us his ways so that we may walk in his paths.'

Lasting peace
In this way God is seen as wielding authority over the nations and sitting in judgement between them. Weapons of war will be melted down and turned into peaceful implements of agriculture. It will be the end of wars between nations and of preparation for war.

The temple of the Lord
As we read this from a Christian standpoint we see deeper meanings. For the new Temple of the Lord is the human body of Jesus in which the Son of God was incarnated and came to live among us as one of us. In Bethlehem that day, the Temple of the Lord was not that massive building in nearby Jerusalem but the tiny Baby in his Mother's arms in the poverty of the stable. It was to this Temple that the shepherds went to worship and adore. It is from this Temple that we learn God's ways and learn to walk in God's paths. And he is the Prince of Peace.
It is the coming of God into that little baby's Body that we are preparing to celebrate during these four weeks of Advent.

Warnings of the end times
Yet in today's Gospel we are not talking about this. Rather it is full of warnings about the end times and about being ready for them. However, we need to remember that the celebration of Christmas is not - as it can easily become - just a nostalgic recalling of what happened in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago. The whole purpose of the celebration is to remind us of what this birth is ultimately about. Where are we going in life? What is our ultimate goal? It is not a question of looking back but of looking forward. It is a question of being ready.

Examples from the past
The Gospel consists of a set of warnings from Jesus about readiness for his final coming. He cites the example of Noah and the flood. He says that in the days leading right up to the Flood "people were eating, drinking, taking wives, taking husbands". They suspected absolutely nothing and suddenly they were swept away. Only Noah, his family and the animals they took into the Ark survived. The coming of the Son of Man will be like that, Jesus says.

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