First Sunday of Advent
Readings: Isaiah 63:16-17, 64:1, 3-8; Psalm 79(80):2-3, 15-16, 18-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37
3 December 2023
“We are waiting for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” – 1 Corinthians 1:7
Based on life expectancy, we can surmise that this Advent is one of probably 70 or 80 which we will each experience. For children, Advent and Christmas are times of wonder. As adults though, it can become routine and repetitive. There may not be a lot to distinguish this Advent from past Advents.
Looking into the future, the view is different. Amid our Christmas preparations, the Church invites us to heed two more “advents” of God which are just around the corner—first when we die, and then again when Jesus returns. Neither of those will be routine or repetitive!
Advent gets us into the habit of looking forward. Our Lord wants us to foster this habit, constantly preparing to see God who draws ever closer. Death can be likened to Jesus approaching us from behind and tapping us on the shoulder. He wants us to turn around and greet him with joy and affection, not begging for more time.
So, for the next four weeks, we take the Bethlehem shepherds and Magi as our guides. We imagine ourselves travelling with them, preparing to meet Jesus. When Christmas arrives, the Lord should find us ready to receive him, and equally prepared for the other two Advents in our future.
At the end of my life on earth O Lord, grant me the resolve to run forth to meet you with the wonder and joy of a child on Christmas morning. Amen.
Fr John Corrigan
Tree of Jesse – Artist Unknown
Tree of Jesse (c. 1210). Vellum. From Ms 9/1695 Fol.14v of “Psautier d’Ingeburg de Danemark”. Musee Conde, Chantilly, France. © Musée Condé, Chantilly / Bridgeman Images.
So familiar was God with man that God could walk with Adam and Eve “in the cool of the day” (Gn 3:8). Sin ended this. But God’s creation of the world was an act of love. “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). Not to be thwarted by man’s weakness, God immediately announced his counter-offensive: “I will put enmity between you (the serpent, the father of lies) and the Woman, and between your offspring and hers” (Gn 3:15).
Almost at the beginning of his book, the prophet Isaiah spells this out: “The Lord will give you a sign. It is this: the young woman (the Greek text reads “virgin”) is with child and will give birth to a son who she will call “Immanuel” (Is 7:14). St Matthew will later add: “A name which means ‘God-is-with-us’” (Mt 1:23). In modern language, we would say “God is for us”. God is on our side, and always has been.
We are familiar with Isaiah’s prophesy, but few are aware of its historical context. We read of it in the Advent liturgy on 20 December and on the Fourth Sunday (Year A). Ahaz, the king of Judah, was playing a dangerous game with the prophet. Ahaz wanted to enter into an alliance with Assyria to protect himself from his neighbouring kings. When Isaiah heard of the plan, he insisted that Ahaz should put his trust in God, not in some foreign military power. Isaiah even promised Ahaz a sign of God’s fidelity. Ahaz refused the offer, saying in effect, “I wouldn’t be so bold as to ask God for a sign.” Actually, Ahaz was afraid that if he were to receive a sign from God, he would have to abandon his alliance with Assyria, and the truth was he had more confidence in the power of Assyria than he had in the power of God.
Isaiah, refusing to play games, gave Ahaz the sign anyway: “The virgin shall be with child and bear a son.” It was a pledge that God’s people would always have his protection. God would never desert his people even when they so often deserted him.
The liturgy presents Our Lady (and she represents us) in complete contrast to Ahaz. “Let it be done to me,” she assures the angel. In her response, mankind begins its long return to God. The early Fathers of the Church would pithily comment that Eva has been reversed by Ave.
The liturgy has a purpose—it brings history into the present so as to evoke a response from us. Not without cause do we refer to the “sacred mysteries”, “mysteries” into which we are invited to enter. The liturgy has failed if we leave in the same frame of mind as we entered. King Ahaz presents us with a real challenge. Do we really want to know God’s will for our lives? It may change many of our preconceptions. For many it will mean a complete reversal of their lives. Food for thought. We have three weeks to think about it. Being shorter than Lent, Advent has a certain intensity.
Since medieval times, the Tree of Jesse (King David’s father) has symbolised Isaiah’s prophesy. God the Son made-man has human origins (and let’s not forget that the Old Testament mind would never have imagined that God would come this close.) He truly belongs to the human family. The English Missal has chosen for its illustrations copies from a Psalter held in the Musée Condé, Chantilly (outside Paris). The building, originally a chateau, dates from 1386. In the 19th century, it was bequeathed to Henri of Orléans, Duke of Aumale. Following the 1848 Revolution, he was exiled to England and dedicated himself to the collection of precious books and manuscripts, objects d’art, and paintings. Before his death in 1897, he bequeathed his entire collection to the French Republic.
We are looking at a page from the Ingeborg Psalter, made in northern France around the year 1200 for Ingeborg of Denmark, wife of the French King Phillip II. The Tree of Jesse shows Christ’s family tree. The tree is highly symbolised. Jesse is lying on his bed, more pensive than slumbering. The trunk of the tree rises to a height of four levels, showing in ascending order: Abraham, David (with his harp), Mary and Jesus.
They are flanked by Old Testament figures. On the left: Malachi, Daniel and Isaiah. On the right: Aaron, Ezekiel, and a female figure—the Sybil of Cumae—considered in the Middle Ages a prophet of Christ’s birth. They are probably characters of a mystery play, common in those times.
Christ enthroned at the top of the tree rules as Pantokrator (“ruler of all”), blessing with his right hand and judging, with book in hand, with his left. He is surrounded by two worshipping angels and seven doves—symbols of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Is 11: 2–3).
Monsignor Graham Schmitzer
Fr John Corrigan is an assistant priest in the Diocese of Ballarat. He currently ministers in the parish of Sunraysia, centred on Mildura in the far north of Victoria, although he is also known in other parts for his “Blog of a Country Priest,” and for regular appearances on Network Ten and Foxtel’s Mass For You At Home.
Monsignor Graham Schmitzer is the retired parish priest of Immaculate Conception Parish in Unanderra, NSW. He was ordained in 1969 and has served in many parishes in the Diocese of Wollongong. He was also chancellor and secretary to Bishop William Murray for 13 years. He grew up in Port Macquarie and was educated by the Sisters of St Joseph of Lochinvar. For two years he worked for the Department of Attorney General and Justice before entering St Columba’s College, Springwood, in 1962. Mgr Graham loves travelling and has visited many of the major art galleries in Europe.