The very first reading for Advent in the Office of Readings of the Breviary is a text from Isaiah Chapter 1. As such, it sounds a kind of keynote for the season, which is penitential in tone. In effect, the reading sets forth the need for a savior, as it vividly describes our sinful condition. We’ve got it bad and that ain’t good. But praise the Lord, there is a doctor on the way. His name is Emmanuel; His name is Jesus, which means “God saves.”
Let’s look at this keynote reading of Advent in five stages.
I. Distant Sons – Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth, for the Lord speaks: Sons have I raised and reared, but they have disowned me! An ox knows its owner, and an ass, its master’s manger; But Israel does not know, my people has not understood. Ah! sinful nation, people laden with wickedness, evil race, corrupt children! They have forsaken the Lord, spurned the Holy One of Israel, apostatized (Is 1:2-4).
At the heart of most of our troubles is that we have distanced ourselves from God. Sometimes this is through forgetfulness rooted in a dullness of mind. Culturally in the West we have moved God to the periphery by an increasingly strident secularism. We are distant children. Collectively speaking, we have disowned our Father: the God who made us and who enables us to do everything we have done.
In so doing, we are cutting ourselves off from the very source of our power and achievement. This, of course, is the height of foolishness. Consider a fan that has just been unplugged. At first the blades continue to spin and the fan may “think” that all is well. But gradually the blades move more and more slowly. Eventually, they stop completely. It is this way with us as well.
Most of us believers are rightly concerned that our culture, having been unmoored, is becoming just as God described faithless ancient Israel: a sinful nation laden with wickedness, evil, and corruption. No age of this “paradise lost” has ever been sinless, but increasingly we cannot even get consensus on the most basic moral issues: that killing infants in the womb is wrong, that homosexual acts are disordered, and that promiscuity is unhealthy for the body and the culture. Even the most rudimentary understanding of biology shows that a life in the womb is a human baby and that homosexual acts are not meant to be (the parts don’t fit and the full purpose of sex is impossible). And clearly promiscuity brings disease. And this is just the biological evidence. Even a high school biology student can figure out that these practices are misguided.
But so deep is our confusion, that even the most obvious aspects of things evade us as we get lost in our rationalizations and foolish attempts to justify what we know, deep down, is wrong. Yes, unplugged from God, we get a little slow in our thinking.
The Lord goes on to compare His distant children to oxen and donkeys. Yes, even they are smarter than some of us, for they know their owner and who feeds them. Are you and I smarter than a donkey or an ox? There is a reason our nativity sets usually feature a donkey and a cow. They were there for the birth of Christ, but wehad no room for him in the inn.
So the first reason we need a savior is that we tend to stray from God. And having strayed, we get lost in more ways than one. God has to come find us, just as in the garden when the first couple sinned He went through the Garden calling, “Adam, where are you?” (Gen 3:9) So now He seeks us, His distant children.
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