First Sunday of Advent

As the liturgical year closes and we open the beginning of something new with Advent, the call to conversion becomes more imperative.  Yes, there is a sense of dread when we think of the end of the world, the end of time, the second coming of Christ.  There is a sense of dread when we look at our lives and how little we’ve done to respond to God’s grace and His call upon our lives.  The first reading points out this terrifying realization: with all the freedom you’ve given us Lord, we’ve multiplied our transgressions and used the time you’ve given us for ourselves and haven’t given You a second thought.  What’s worse, we don’t even feel remorse anymore!  We cannot even shed a tear when we give in to our pride, our anger, our lusts, our focus on worldly pursuits and greed.  Our hardness of heart frightens us – who will save us from our awful habit of crime?  Our vices outnumber and outweigh our virtues!  You have reminded us of our condition, but you have abandoned us to the things we have chosen.  You give us no help against temptation because it is what we have truly desired and chosen and you are a just God who respects our freedom.

We hear the cry from the first reading, “Tear open your heavens and come down! Let the mountains quake as you descend!”  If only the Rocky Mountains shook at God’s presence! If only we could hear them and feel them.  If only we were inspired enough by holy fear to stop sinning, if only the unpredictability of the end of all things had some lasting effect on our souls.  We know that You are merciful O Lord – look at our distress and our weakness and have pity on us!  Jesus tells us urgently in today’s Gospel to “watch!”

What do we watch for?  What can save us from ourselves?  Our guilt is a very poor motivator, our sins keep us held fast in bondage and in vice.  Our only hope is that God Himself will come up with a way to move our hearts back to Himself with eagerness and longing.  Our only hope is that God Himself will give us something hopeful in the midst of our disasters and failures. “O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.”  God gives us great hope during this time of Advent, His coming will not be terrifying and full of judgment – He is coming as a baby.  He will save us by drawing our hearts to love Him as a little child.


Your great tolerance encouraged our shamelessness. When you did not punish our sins, we remained transgressors, disregarding your laws. In the same sense, God said to the blessed Moses, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart.” He used his great forbearance and tolerance and punishes Pharaoh only with frogs and locusts and flies to begin with, and Pharaoh thought that God could not increase the level of punishment.… You have been patient for a long time; you have not disciplined us, seeing us transgressing without a care; we have accordingly hardened our hearts and as a consequence left the straight path.1


Is not sin also punishment for sin?… We can recount many other events clearly showing that perversity of heart comes from a hidden judgment of God, with the result that a refusal to hear the truth leads to commission of sin, and this sin is also punishment for preceding sin.2


Behold how a person is hardened if he does not merit to be chastised by the Lord for his correction? Moreover, what is written concerning those whom God’s mercy does not even allow to become hardened? “God scourges every child whom he receives”; … and again, “For whom God loves he reproves.” Concerning this hardening the prophet also exclaims to the Lord in the person of the people, “Why do you harden our hearts that we fear you not?” Surely this is nothing else than, You have abandoned our heart, that we should be converted to you.3


The punishment for previous sins is called “hardening” that comes from the divine righteousness.… While those who are righteous are in no way driven by God to become evil, nevertheless, when they are evil they are hardened so that they become worse, as the apostle says, “Since they did not receive the love of God’s truth that they might be saved, God sent them a spirit of error.” So God made them sin. But in these cases there was so much sin that came before that they deserved to become worse.… Some sins come from God’s anger which are balanced against the merit of other sins.4


  1. COMMENTARY ON ISAIAH 20.63.17. Elliott, M. W. (Ed.). (2007). Isaiah 40–66 (p. 256). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  2. AGAINST JULIAN 5.3.12. Elliott, M. W. (Ed.). (2007). Isaiah 40–66 (p. 256). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  3. SERMON 101.3. Elliott, M. W. (Ed.). (2007). Isaiah 40–66 (p. 256). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  4. THREE BOOKS OF THOUGHTS 2.19.5–6. Elliott, M. W. (Ed.). (2007). Isaiah 40–66 (pp. 256–257). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
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