Advent 2023: The Still Voice of God in a Strident World

User’s Guide to the First Sunday of Advent

Advent arrives.
Advent arrives. (photo: Unsplash)

Sunday, Dec. 3, is the First Sunday of Advent. Mass readings: Isaiah 63:16B-17, 19B; 64:2-7; Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37.

Today’s first reading, from Isaiah, rather thoroughly sets forth our need for a Savior. Isaiah distinguishes five ailments that beset us and from which we need rescue.

The text says, “Why [O Lord] do you let us wander from your ways?”

It is a common human tendency to wander or drift gradually. It is relatively rare for someone to suddenly decide to reject God, especially if he was raised with some faith. Rather, what usually happens is that we just drift away and get lost. And so we must depend on God being like a shepherd who seeks his lost sheep.

“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for …” the text continues.

There is a human tendency to demand signs and wonders. Our flesh demands to see. So, here, Isaiah gives voice to the human demand to see on our own terms. We demand signs and wonders before we will believe. It is almost as though we are saying to God, “Force me to believe in you” or “Make everything so certain that I don’t really have to walk by faith.” We need a Savior to give us a new heart and mind, attuned to the small, still voice of God in a strident world.

The text adds, “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways! … [W]e are sinful; all of us have become as unclean people.”

The word “depraved” means “crooked” or “deformed,” to be lacking what we ought to have. The text specifies that we are “unmindful” of God. Indeed, we can go for long periods barely, if ever, thinking of God. And we are like unclean people as a group: We divorce, fornicate, fail to forgive, support abortion, contracept, and fail the poor in numbers indistinguishable from those who do not know God. Save us, O Lord, from our mediocrity and fear. Come, Lord Jesus!

“All our good deeds are like polluted rags; we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind”: Calling good deeds polluted rags gives voice to our own frustration with our seemingly hopeless situation of overcoming sin and injustice on our own. Ultimately, the devil wants us to diminish what little good we can find in ourselves. He wants us to be locked into a depressed and angry state. If we think there is no good in us at all, then we may think, “Why even bother?”

Thankfully, Isaiah ends on a final note that takes the song from the key of D minor to the key of D major.

“Yet, O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: We are all the work of your hands.”

God has so loved us that he sent his Son, who is not ashamed to call us brethren.

Our cry, “Come, Lord Jesus!” is heard and heeded by the Father, who loves us and is fashioning us into his very image. God is able and will fix and fashion us well. Help is on the way!

Cardinal-elect Víctor Manuel Fernández was appointed by Pope Francis on July 1, 2023, to become the next prefect for the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

What Is Inclusive Language and Why Is It Dangerous?

While some of these changes are not that dramatic or noticeable in English, introducing inclusive wording in languages such as Spanish, where nouns are either grammatically masculine or feminine, becomes quite obvious due to the novel alteration of noun endings.