6 December, 2012. First Week of Advent – Thursday
First Reading: Isaiah 26:1-6
(A hymn of confidence in the Lord God “your everlasting rock”.)
On that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: We have a strong city; he sets up victory like walls and bulwarks. Open the gates, so that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace – in peace because they trust in you.
Trust in the Lord forever, for in the Lord God you have an everlasting rock. For he has brought low the inhabitants of the height; the lofty city he lays low. He lays it low to the ground, casts it to the dust. The foot tramples it, the feet of the poor, the steps of the needy.
Gospel: Matthew 7:21, 24-27
(Final section of the Sermon on the Mount: like a wise man who built his house on rock.)
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. . .
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell – and great was its fall!”
Who shall build our city?
The readings for today intersect in a way that parallels and contrasts. In Isaiah God builds the city, setting up its walls and ramparts to protect it; in the Gospel we build the house solidly, setting it on rock. While Isaiah summons into the new city those who trust in the Lord, Mt has Jesus promise salvation to the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. The prophetic text emphasises faith while the Gospel stresses action! There is a line in the passage from Isaiah to harmonise these divergent views : “The Lord is an eternal rock.”
Insistence upon trust in the Lord is a continuous motif throughout the prophecy of Isaiah. The classic statement occurs in chapter seven: Unless your faith is firm you shall not be firm! (Is. 7:14) It speaks from a time of crisis when Ahaz, King of Jerusalem, had no alternative but to trust in God. He was unable to muster an army and repel an invasion from the northern kingdom of Israel. It was immoral to appeal to Assyria for help and so become a vassal of this foreign power, losing their independence and gaining nothing in the long run. We, too, are faced with crises, at least at crucial moments of our lives, when either choice seems somewhat immoral. When we can see no good option or moral alternative, Isaiah encourages us: “Be watchful and be tranquil; do not fear and do not let your courage fail. ” Later he repeats these words in a more meditative way: “By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet and in trust your strength lies. (30:15)
Today he says: Trust in the Lord forever! For the Lord is an eternal rock. The Lord will surround us who have faith as he does the holy city with “walls and ramparts. ” And the Lord himself is that city. He is the rock which sustains us. He is the Holy One, enshrined within us. There is a clash of images here! It means that the Lord is behind and before us, around about us and within us, supporting us from beneath, glorifying us from above.
“I love you, O Lord, my strength, O Lord, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer. ” And yet there are other moments in our life when we will be rightly condemned by God and our neighbours if we remain silent and motionless. There is an appointed time for everything. . . . a time to be born, and a time to die; . . . a time to be silent, and a time to speak. (Eccles 3:1, 7). Only when in every action we turn to the Lord for guidance, only when a sense of the Lord’s presence accompanies all that we do, only then will there be full integrity in our life. Everything will fit together, and no single action will disrupt the peace of our lives.