MAKING A LIST – First Sunday of Advent, Year A

November 27, 2022

Revised Common Lectionary
Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:37-44

Children aren’t the only ones making lists of what they want for Christmas. While children often embrace this task openly and energetically, adults are perhaps more likely to make mental lists, sometimes shared with others, but often kept to themselves. While children may be inclined to think of toys and games, adults may have deeper desires—bringing families together, resolving financial difficulties, obtaining employment, or achieving improved health for a loved one.

On this First Sunday of Advent, the very first Scripture reading that we hear offers an inspiring list that reflects God’s deep desires for the world. The prophet Isaiah shares a vision he received of Jerusalem raised on high with all the nations streaming toward it. In Jerusalem people will live under God’s rule and receive instruction in God’s ways. A whole new world order will be established, as people of every nation “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks” (Is 2:4).

It’s worth noting that Isaiah didn’t simply hear the word of a new age; rather, he describes it as a word that he saw. Imagine if we too could visualize God’s promise of peace and justice for the world. While Isaiah saw this dream for his own nation and for Jerusalem, the city that defined the center of both civic and religious life, he also saw beyond Judah to God’s universal rule in which “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (2:4). What would the world be like if we could embrace that dream?

As today’s Gospel reading reminds us, no one—not even Jesus himself—knows the day or the time of God’s fulfillment (see Mt 24:36). Speculation about the future is useless, and anxiety is unproductive. We can, however, make a difference in the present. As Paul wrote to the Romans, we do know “what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep” (Rom 13:11). We are not simply left to wait around with no purpose; rather, we can begin to make God’s list for the world our own. We can prepare for Christ’s coming by waking up, turning our hearts more firmly in the direction of God’s dream, and do our part, however small, in bringing about change that reflects God’s justice.

While Advent is a season of preparation for Christmas, we hear nothing about the birth of Jesus in today’s Scripture readings. Today’s Advent celebration suggests instead that getting ready for Christmas is not so much about a single day or even a single season of celebration. Rather, this is a time to prepare ourselves, our communities, and the whole world for the coming of Christ and the coming of God’s reign. As you make your list, check the suggestions in today’s reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah!

A Hymn for Today: “I Rejoiced When I Heard Them Say”

Following Isaiah’s vision of all the nations streaming toward Jerusalem as God’s reign of justice and peace takes hold in the world, the Lectionary appoints Psalm 122. In this processional song, the community prays “for the peace of Jerusalem” (Ps 122:6). At one level, there is a deep irony as we sing this psalm about the “city of peace” as it continues to be the center of deep conflict. At another level, Jerusalem has come to represent the center of God’s presence and justice, making it a fitting song for this First Sunday of Advent.

British Roman Catholic hymn writer and composer Bernadette Farrell has created a paraphrase of Psalm 122 that emphasizes themes of God’s rule through the repetition of the words shalom, peace, and justice in the refrain. Farrell also created a lovely unison tune that is well suited to the text. To hear a recording, click here.

I rejoiced when I heard them say:
“Let us go to the house of God.”
And now our feet are standing
in your gates, O Jerusalem! Refrain

Shalom, shalom, the peace of God be here.
Shalom, shalom, God’s justice be ever near.

Like a temple of unity
is the city, Jerusalem.
It is there all tribes will gather,
all the tribes of the house of God. Refrain

It is faithful to Israel’s law,
there to praise the name of God.
All the judgment seats of David
were set down in Jerusalem. Refrain

For the peace of all nations, pray:
for God’s peace within your homes.
May God’s lasting peace surround us;
may it dwell in Jerusalem. Refrain

For the love of my friends and kin
I will bless you with signs of peace.
For the love of God’s own people
I will labor and pray for you. Refrain

Text: Bernadette Farrell, b. 1957. © 1993, Bernadette Farrell, admin. OCP Publications. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857

Image Credit: Swords into Ploughshares, Peter Koenig

“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.

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