Advent 1: Time

Lesson 1: Isaiah 63:16-64:8

The phrase that stands out for me here is ‘the mountains might quake at your presence’. The author, whom I shall call Isaiah for convenience although several authors were probably involved in the production of the text, is talking about the momentous coming down of God to earth – it’s here, presumably, because Christian readers interpret this as related to the coming of Jesus – and is clear that this will come with the force of a natural disaster. In the following verses, the coming is compared to fire and boiling water, and it’s going to make the nations tremble. What I sense here is fear, even as Isaiah reproaches those who have left the way of God (and, interestingly, God – for making us err from God’s ways) and offers himself up to be clay in the hands of a divine potter.

Gospel: Mark 13:32-37

This extract also speaks of God’s coming – but, like waiting for a parcel, “you do not know when that time will come”. Nevertheless, the emphasis here is on being prepared. We are like the servants who have been left to mind the house. I especially like the image here of the doorkeeper on watch, although when we ask a doorkeeper to keep watch during a Quaker Meeting for Worship we are expecting late Friends as much as God! Overall, I think this passage relates closely to what I said in a previous blog post about Waiting. My NIV Study Bible draws attention to that fact that the first verse of this passage includes Jesus among those who are ignorant about the time which is to come – emphasising, in effect, that we’re all in the same boat and must live in expectant faith.

Overall, these two passages talk about waiting and the time to come, but they also suggest the complex, non-linear nature of liturgical time. One was written before the birth of Jesus, indeed before the rebuilding of the Temple (see 63:18), and talks about future events; the other includes the words of Jesus, focussed on future events towards the end of his ministry (Mark 14, the next chapter, includes his arrest), but they are offered together as readings in this waiting period before the birth (but also in another sense after the death and resurrection) of Jesus. I have two reactions to that: firstly, that it recalls the complex interweaving of events in some tellings of the Pagan year (the Goddess and her son and her lover, or are they the same person, or is one Holly and one Oak or are the two Kings somehow one?), and secondly, that it makes the Quaker decision to reject ‘times and seasons’ and seek to remember the whole story all year round seem much closer to the practice of other Christians.

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