FROM A READING FOR NOV. 30, FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
'The one on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away; the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat.' - Mark 13:15-16

We all can identify with Third-Isaiah's request, in Sunday's reading, that Yahweh "rend the heavens and come down" (Isaiah 63:16b-17,19b;64:2-7). It's difficult facing life without God being a physical part of that life.

"You, Yahweh, are our father," the prophet proclaims. "We are the clay and you the potter; we are all the work of your hands." Given that relationship, it certainly would be nice if you were around when we need you.

Yet there might be some occasions when we prefer God not to be deeply embedded in our lives: "Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people, all our good deeds are like polluted rags." In other words, maybe it's not a bad thing that God is looking at us from a distance.

No doubt, the fear of God coming at the wrong time in the wrong place is why Mark's Jesus (Mark 13:14-16) tells His people, "Be watchful! Be alert!" The evangelist is still expecting Jesus' second coming to take place during his and his community's lifetime.

Coming soon?
At this point, expecting an imminent Parousia is almost an essential part of the Christian faith. But Mark shares Third-Isaiah's fear. "You do not know when the time will come....May He not come suddenly and find you sleeping."

Paul, writing at least 10 years before Mark (I Corinthians 1:3-9), also believes Jesus' Parousia is just around the corner. Yet he's little more confident than the evangelist that the Corinthians will be busy doing the right things when the risen Jesus arrives.

"He [God] will keep you firm to the end," he writes, "irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ."

His confidence revolves around his belief that no one in the Corinthian Church is "lacking in any spiritual gift." Those special gifts of the Spirit are the down payment on Jesus' promise of eternal life for His followers.

But those familiar with I Corinthians know one of the reasons Paul writes this particular letter is to confront the misuse of those gifts. Some in the Church are employing them for their own benefit instead of for the benefit of the community. Instead of unifying the Church, they're splitting it into factions.

In the mind and experience of Paul, there's no more serious Christian sin. It must have amazed the Apostle that God's presence, rooted in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, was so lightly regarded by some who had received them.

Those misguided Christians forgot they were members of the Body of Christ. Their faith was their own personal business. If God were to rend the heavens and come down, it was to meet their needs, not the needs of the community.

Here and now
The historical Jesus always stressed that God is present, working effectively in our lives. But He also stressed that, in order to experience that presence, we had to go through a "metanoia" - a total change in our value system. Such a repentance helped His followers put others and their needs before their own; to die and rise as Jesus died and rose, by giving themselves to others.

Paul never wanted his people to take their eyes off Jesus' Parousia. But he also never wanted them to take their eyes off the presence of the risen Jesus right here and now. Though today we'd say he was disappointed that Jesus' Second Coming never happened in his lifetime, he certainly wasn't disappointed in the presence of the risen Jesus among us, especially in the Body of Christ.

Wouldn't it be nice to wake up one day and realize that what we're expecting in the future is already here, if we know what to look for?

Best we stay awake.