Ask your presider to tell your listeners (or tell them yourself):

First Sunday of Advent, year B, December 3, 2023

Before the first reading:

After two generations in exile in Babylon, the Jews were allowed to return to their home in Judah. They believed they had been sent to exile as punishment for their sins. They were repentant and hopeful. The third prophet to bear the name Isaiah speaks of their mixed feelings.

After the psalm, before the second reading:

Corinth was a young, somewhat wild Christian community anxious about the imminent return of Christ to bring history to an end. Saint Paul reassures them by reminding them of the gifts that the Spirit of God has already given them. They're ready, and God will keep them so.

Before the gospel acclamation:

The people of Jesus' time lived in the present, without thinking much about the future. Jesus feels an urgency about the works of God that remain unfinished, that can only be completed by the return of the Son of Man. Jesus tries to stir up that urgency in the hearts of his disciples.

First Reading, Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7

The Historical Situation: Around 600 BC, the Babylonians took the Jews out of the promised land and kept them in exile (a.k.a. the Babylonian Captivity) for about 60 years. When Cyrus, a new emperor, took over Babylon, he sent the Jews home. This reading is set in that troubled period when Judah was trying to put itself back together after returning from Exile. To get the flavor of it, imagine how American Southerners might have felt during Reconstruction, or a contemporary family might feel when they return to a fire-damaged home.

Proclaiming It: The reading contains a pathetic mix of feelings: guilt, outrage at God alternating with praise of God, humility, anguish and hope. Read it to yourself one sentence at a time, naming the feeling captured in that one sentence. Then do the next sentence, and so on. Make a mental catalog (or even a paper list) of each feeling.

Then practice reading it aloud, making sure you pause wherever the feeling changes. This is a hard passage to read. It's even harder for a listener to understand if the sentences just tumble out rapidly. Give your listeners all the help you can.

Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Our Liturgical Setting: We wait for Christ in two ways. The early Sundays of Advent always carry on the end-of-the-world theme, from the last Sundays of the preceding liturgical year. In this theme, we wait for Christ to come again in glory, to judge the living and the dead. The later Sundays of Advent celebrate a different theme, the coming of the Messiah in the flesh, when Jesus was born of Mary.

The Historical Situation: Today's second reading comes from an early letter of Saint Paul, written while he and his audience were sure that Christ's second coming was just around the corner.

Proclaiming It: To bring this out, when you read it, emphasize the phrases that appear here in bold print:

...Likewise, the witness I bore to Christ has been so confirmed among you that you lack no spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will strengthen you to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Links to other smart commentaries on this week's readings

Credit for the picture at the top:

In today's readings, the vigilance called for by Mark's Jesus and by Saint Paul is intense, as is the repentant readiness of Trito-Isaiah's returned exiles. In late 2017, when I write these words, nowhere is the vigilance more tense than that along the narrow strip of land dividing North Korea and South Korea, and for good reasons. The Web is full of pictures of soldiers at that de-militarized zone, staring grimly, unflinchingly in the direction of an enemy just out of sight,

This picture, however, proposes something more hopeful, even whimsical, for that zone. It's an architectural hypothetical that envisions a new use for the DMZ after North and South are reconciled. By keeping each other's troops and citizens out of the zone for 60 years, the two Koreas have let a broad swath of land go untouched by human culture, or so the architects hope. Preserve it so, they say, and re-use the barbed wire to make so-called DMZ skyscrapers in it, where visitors can see nature up close. See a much larger graphic here, and read more about the proposal here.

This page updated November 24, 2023