LONGING AND LAMENT – First Sunday of Advent, Year B

November 29, 2020

Revised Common Lectionary
Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7
Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19 (4)
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:33-37

I’ve heard many people express a yearning for 2020 to be over and gone. That sentiment, I think, is really shorthand for a whole set of desires—longing for an end to the pandemic, real progress on racial justice, a spirit of unity and civility, a stop to violence and abuse, and so many others that have bubbled to the surface over these past months.

Perhaps we need Advent this year more than ever. We need a time to lament the inequity, the loss, the isolation, the disruption, and the acrimony. We need a time to ask where God is in the midst of the sickness, conflict, and injustice that are so rampant in the world today. The fervent plea for God’s coming among us in today’s reading from Isaiah seems so appropriate to our situation: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down” (Is 64:4). Today’s psalm echos the plea, “Stir up your might, and come to save us!” (Ps 80:2)

This Sunday’s Scriptures not only call us to lament, but also offer hope and guidance. In the reading we hear today from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus counsels us to let go of concern about the day and hour of God’s fulfillment, which is after all a human way of seeking control. As we wait for the fulfillment of our deepest longings, the Gospel summons us to move beyond idle speculation that leads to paralysis.

Far from fostering passivity, letting go of such concerns opens for us the opportunity to focus on our part in preparing for the coming of God’s reign. We are called to devote ourselves to the work at hand like the servants who have been left in charge of the household and to keep watch like the doorkeeper (Mk 13:34). Jesus commands us not only to stay awake, but also to do our part in making the world ready for his return.

At times we may feel that the work is too demanding, the task too great—and that is true, for only God can bring about the complete transformation for which we long. In the meantime, we are to make a difference by using the resources that God has given to us. We can draw confidence from the assurance we hear today in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians that “you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:7).

Come, Emmanuel!

A Hymn for Today: “Come Now, O God”

Hymn writer David Bjorlin, a member of The Hymn Society’s Executive Committee, tells the following story about this text: “Over the past five years, I’ve made a tradition out of writing a new text for Advent. For a few of those years, I had tried to think of a way to write a new text to the beautiful and haunting Finnish tune LOST IN THE NIGHT, but could never seem to come up with the right refrain for the last two lines. On the First Sunday of Advent in 2017, I was attending a Saturday service at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and was listening to the Old Testament passage from Isaiah (“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!”), when the refrain came: “Come, Emmanuel. Come, Emmanuel.” I spent the bulk of the sermon jotting down some ideas and finished it later that week.”

Come now, O God, when our love is forsaken.
Come, when our bedrock of faith has been shaken.
Come, when our deepest of hopes are mistaken.
Come, Emmanuel.
Come, Emmanuel.

Come, when we squander the freedom you gave us.
Come, break the systems of sin that enslave us.
Come, though we wonder if you can still save us.
Come, Emmanuel.
Come, Emmanuel.

Come, lead us out of our self-serving madness.
Come, while the world is enshrouded in sadness.
Come, turn the tears of our mourning to gladness.
Come, Emmanuel.
Come, Emmanuel.

Text: David Bjorlin, b.1984; © 2018, GIA Publications, Inc. Used by permission.

Image Credit: Long Walk to the Fire, Carsten ten Brink, 2011

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.