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  • cmcsullivan

...For from Zion shall go forth instruction,

and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between the nations,

and set terms for many peoples.

They shall beat their swords into plowshares

and their spears into pruning hooks;

One nation shall not raise the sword against another,

nor shall they train for war again. - Isaiah 2:3-4

Primary instructions

The verses from Isaiah above are the very first words of the very first reading for the very first Sunday of the "A" cycle (among A, B, and C) of the church year. This prophetic word is "instruction" for all nations. The first word that the church invites us to hear from the mouth of the Lord in the new year is a declaration of peace.

Among the nations

The Biblical stories of Israel are rife with war. Israel was a tiny, insignificant nation that was conquered over and over again by the world-dominating superpowers of the ancient world: Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Rome. In the best of times, Israel was in no position to tell anyone else what to do.

And yet...

The story that Israel tells about herself is that her God is the one real God. In the early part of her history, Israel understands that her God is the best God. Over time, she comes to understand that other "gods" are only idols, substitutes which the nations worship instead of worshiping God. It stands to reason that whatever Israel's God says through the prophets would apply to all the nations of the world. Even though the beginning of the book of the prophet Isaiah sees Israel again in the thrall of other nations and their so-called gods, the prophet can envision a time when every people will -- must! -- come to worship the one and only God, and hear and take heed to what God has to say.

The promise of peace

So it is that we are given to imagine this scene -- all the nations on earth streaming toward the mountain of God, the place from which he will instruct us. And his instruction is that all our war-making is at odds with God's hope for us. For the God whose Word has the power to bring creation into being, the vision of sheathed swords and closed training camps and pruning hooks where spears used to be is not just a wish. It is a promise.

All evidence to the contrary

Advent is the season of hopeful expectation. We hear the promise anew and await its fulfillment. This in spite of the dreary headlines that weigh on our weary hearts. Make no mistake: Christian hope isn't finger-crossing, rose-colored, pie-in-the-sky Pollyanna-ism. In the New Testament Gospel of Matthew, the people stream to another mountain on which the Prophet who is also the great High Priest and King gives instruction, by way of a series of blessings. These are not for the comfortable or the powerful, but rather for the poor and the mourning, the meek and the merciful. In this Sermon on the Mount, Jesus includes this solemn promise:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

We wait. With unfailing hope.

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  • cmcsullivan

I know this is probably the last thing you want to think about.

Bear with me. This is going somewhere good, I promise. Here’s the question: What is one thing you don’t like about yourself? Just pick one.

Chalkboard with the words "Be You -- Love Yourself" with a heart around "Love"

Maybe, like me, you’re thinking, “How will I choose?” It’s not important to choose the “right” thing. Any thing will do.

Here’s my example: I wish I were less judgmental. I’ve been paying attention lately, and when I tune into that channel, the channel in my head that broadcasts my judgments to me, I notice that it’s transmitting non-stop. Nothing is quite right. The weather is too cold. The meal didn’t come out the way I wanted it. The store is too crowded. The speaker is off-topic. And on and on. Non-stop.

This is not how I like to see myself. In fact, I hide most of these judgments. This is not how I want you to see me. I wish I weren’t like this.

Just as soon as I bring this awareness to mind – I’m judgmental. I wish I weren’t. – I start trying to fix it. I want to make myself stop thinking what I think, feeling how I feel. In effect, I’m saying to myself: Stop being you.

Of course, I can’t. And neither can you.

What is the thing you thought of, the thing you wish could be different about you? Notice how you feel when you think of this thing. What words would you use? Uncomfortable? Angry? Sad? Afraid? Frustrated? Amused? Resistant? How do you feel thinking about this thing about you?

I’ve got some bad news, and I’ve got some good news. The bad news you already know, so don’t worry. The bad news is that you can’t make this part of you magically go away any more than I will wake up tomorrow and find that KJUDGE radio in my head has suddenly gone off the air. Here’s the good news: Your job isn’t to change this thing about you. Your job is simply to notice it. That’s it. That’s all you have to do.

Okay, let’s not kid ourselves. The last think I want to do is to pay attention to how judgmental I can be. Maybe the last thing you want to do is to pay attention to this thing about you. Maybe you think you can’t, because it’s too painful. But you already have, remember? Just a minute ago, you thought about your thing. You felt that feeling. If you’re reading this sentence, you survived.

You already have more information. You know how it felt the last time you brought this thing about yourself to your awareness – frustrating or scary or funny or sad. You might not like that feeling, but sitting with the feeling is the key to transformation.

The feeling I feel when I realize how judgmental I can be is painful to me. I feel disgusted with myself. I tell myself, You know better, even though I can’t help that the thoughts keep coming. The thoughts themselves aren’t what keeps me stuck in them. What keeps me stuck is my unwillingness to face the pain I feel when I look at this part of myself.

The Invitation

We’re not going to pretend that this is fun or easy. But we can trust that when we bring the truth about ourselves to our consciousness, we’re aligning our attention with reality – which is to say, God. God already knows how judgmental I am. When I know that too, then God and I are encountering the reality of me in union. And God can change what I cannot.

The Practice

  • Notice something about yourself that you don’t like. God also knows this about you.

  • Notice how you feel when you think about this thing.

  • Sit with the feeling for as long as you can knowing that God is present with you in the feeling.

  • Notice whether anything inside of you – a feeling, a sensation – shifts as you pay attention.

  • Thank God and acknowledge your own courage in completing this practice.

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  • cmcsullivan

In churches like mine, we mark liturgical seasons in the calendar year. The new year begins with the first Sunday in Advent. Advent is four Sundays and roughly as many weeks preceding December 25 (the first, partridge-in-a-pear-tree day of the 12 day Christmas season). The word advent comes from the Latin, adventus, which means arrival. Something -- someone -- is coming, and during Advent, we wait.

1. Merry Christmas!

There are actually three arrivals that Christians wait for in Advent. The first adventus is the one that happened 2,000 years ago, when a baby was born in a Bethlehem stable. While it may seem odd to anticipate something that already happened, this is the arrival that we all, secular and Christian alike, celebrate more or less together. For some, Christmas has become a season of rest and gift-giving and colored lights. To Christians, it is meant to be the festival of welcome as God appears in history as an ordinary/not-so-ordinary man. In time, the birth of Jesus happened in the past. In eternity, it is ever-present.

2. Apokalypsis

The second adventus we're waiting for is the apokalypsis. To continue our review of church jargon from dead languages, apokalypsis is an ancient Greek term that means a revealing or disclosure. The Biblical sense of apocalypse is that, at the end of history, everything that is will be revealed. Whatever remains hidden to us will be made evident. Christians understand this to mean that Jesus Christ will arrive, not in as a baby this time, but as the risen-from-the-dead, seated-at-the-right-hand-of-God-in-glory, King of creation. Anyone who didn't know this about him will see for themselves that this is who he is and always has been. It makes more sense that we're waiting for this, because it hasn't happened yet in time. We're expecting it in the future.

3. Christus advenit

Perhaps you've surmised that if the other two arrivals refer to the past and the future, this third must have to do with the present. If so, you're right. This third adventus is the one that can happen right now, in our hearts, in our lives. This is the hidden coming of Christ -- not the babe seen by shepherds and kings. Not the King of Glory revealed to all humankind. This adventus is a secret one. Christ as our own hidden treasure.


Your final non-English word for today is this one: Maranatha! (It always seems to come equipped with its own exclamation mark.) Maranatha (!) means, "Come, Lord!" It is a prayer, a plea, a declaration of faith and hope that what has been promised is being fulfilled. It was fulfilled. It will be fulfilled. It is being fulfilled.

Catholic Lectionary Readings for the First Sunday in Advent, Cycle A

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