A reflection for the first Sunday of Advent

Bishop William A. Wack, C.S.C. reflects on the readings for December 3, 2023.
Catholic Voices

Readings (Year B):

Isaiah 63:16B – 17, 19B; 64:2 – 7
Psalms 80:2 – 3, 15 – 16, 18 – 19
1 Corinthians 1:3 – 9
Mark 13:33 – 37

Reflection: Would that you might meet us doing right

As we begin another liturgical year, the readings pick up right where we left off last week: focusing on the second coming of Christ. Whereas in the gospel, Mark presents Jesus issuing a stern warning (“What I say to you I say to all: Watch!”), the prophet Isaiah sets a different tone: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down.” It seems as though Isaiah is reminding God of God’s attributes, as though he were telling God something new: You are mighty, you are our father, you are the potter, you are our redeemer.

Yet throughout the reading the prophet also asks for mercy, forgiveness, and for a swift coming in glory. To me, it sounds like he is saying: “You will always forgive us, … right?” Or: “You are a father who wouldn’t forget his children. … aren’t you?”  It’s a curious blend of praise and petition, assurance and supplication.

Yet I think that this describes our life with God quite well. We come together as a church to sing God’s praises and to adore God with all kinds of titles: Father, Redeemer, Lord, Savior, Shepherd, and so forth. And in almost the same breath we are so bold as to ask God to act in those ways: Be a Redeemer. Be a loving shepherd. Be patient with us.


This is not wrong. In fact, Jesus Christ himself told us to pray this way. “When you pray, say ‘Our Father … Hallowed by thy name … give us our daily bread….’” Even though our Father knows what we need before we ask, it is right and just that we should lift up our hearts in praise, our hands in petition.

When I first saw the 2011 translation for the text of the Mass, I was surprised at the exhortation of the celebrant before the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, which now reads: “…we dare to say…”.  What a strange wording! But considering that we are about to invoke a very tender and intimate image of God and ask for things we want/need at the same time, it is entirely appropriate. Like Moses in the Pentateuch, we dare to remind God who God has revealed the divine nature to be. It’s as though we are saying, “If you are a loving God…”.  The sense is not one of skepticism; rather it is a statement of fact: “Since you are a loving God…”

Advent is a time of waiting, and a time of prayer. Isaiah teaches us how to do both at the same time. We and all of God’s creation cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus!” And God says to us, in effect, “I am coming. Are you ready?” Isaiah puts it best: “Would that you might meet us doing right.”

Yes, we watch and we wait. But we must do more. In prayer, song, worship, and service, we call upon our good God, and thus we get ourselves ready to meet the Lord at the same time.