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December 1, 2013 - First Sunday of Advent

Please click here for today's readings



We open tonight with a quote: 



Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!

May those who love you prosper!

May peace be within your walls,

prosperity in your buildings.


JERUSALEM.   The ultimate world capital.   The Bible’s most referenced, most important city.  

Even today, our three biggest world religions fight constantly over one of the tiniest pieces of real estate in the world.   They have for centuries.   People have sought its power, conquered and built buildings over its ruins, and even speculated about its place in the final judgment.  


Our readings, each of them, speak in a wonderful way about Jerusalem.  


Psalm 122 :   “Go rejoicing to the house of the Lord, to Jerusalem!”  


Here Jerusalem must be kept sacred, special.   It is a place where there are seats for the chosen.     The entire psalm is a prayer of homage to Jerusalem, and also a prayer that peace will erupt within its walls.


And yet we know it has not.   In 2013, our external city of Jerusalem is in more conflict and cultural collision than ever. 


ISAIAH 2: 2-5 reads:  “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,

to the temple of the God of Jacob.

He will teach us his ways,

so that we may walk in his paths.

The law will go out from Zion,

the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.”


Jerusalem appears again to be the center, a place of something special.  It is a place where a temple will be established on a mountain, where we are encouraged to journey.   Where the word of the Lord will be made apparent.    The passage foretells that many people will want to come to the mountain, to feel the peace.   Jerusalem is lauded as a place where magical things occur, where peace will break out instead of war, and where God will allow incredible, miraculous things to happen.    


Again – ISAIAH 2:  “He will judge between the nations

and will settle disputes for many peoples.

They will beat their swords into plowshares

and their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation will not take up sword against nation,

nor will they train for war anymore. “


This is almost the opposite of our experience and understanding of Jerusalem.   Jerusalem has not been at peace for hundreds of years.   Where is this mythical city that Isaiah describes, where nations will not take up against nation?   Currently Israel refuses to believe that Palestine exists, and deliberately builds on their land.   Simultaneously multiple Arab countries have made statements that threaten the security of Israel.  


How is this spreading peace?   Swords into plowshares?   Doesn’t seem that way.  


At best this seems confusing, at worst, it seems like a lie. 


So how can we reconcile this with tonight’s other readings:


Matthew 24: 42 - “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.  (44) … The Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

 Matthew describes a time when the judgment day will be swift, and things will change on a dime.   People will be swept up, changed forever, some lost for good.


ROMANS: 13: 11-12  … “The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”


God is warning us – be ready, don’t be caught unawares.   Salvation is nearer each day.  Which makes sense, doesn’t it?   We all grow OLDER every year.  One step closer to our death and our salvation, day by day.   If salvation is the light, then each day we are one step closer to the light, which we are to focus on, to prefer.   Simultaneously we are warned – don’t just get drunk and be debaucherous.  BE READY.   


And yet… doesn’t drunk and debaucherous sound just a bit more FUN?   More like…  the typical office Christmas party?  


Think about the holidays.   Don’t more people imbibe just a bit more heavily during the Christmas season?   Perhaps to mask the pain of the holidays, to make any loneliness feel… just a bit less acute.  


Perhaps the secret to overcoming this pain, to being prepared to live in the light, to feel the light, during this “Season of light” is to focus on something known as



What if the Jerusalem Isaiah speaks of isn’t the actual city of Jerusalem, but something even more powerful?


What if Jerusalem is WITHIN?


What if that mountain we are to climb, upon which a temple will be built, isn’t external, within Jerusalem’s formidable walls, but literally within our being?   Perhaps then Jerusalem isn’t so far away.   Perhaps it isn’t a city that so many despairs will always be “under siege,” but in fact the one in our hearts.


Doesn’t that suddenly sound more like ADVENT? 


ADVENT is the season of light.   A wonderful time of expectation, of quiet joy anticipated.   It takes place in winter, a time when we, along with the rest of the earth, retreat.  When we withdraw, reflecting inwards, and focusing on getting indoor and staying warm.     


The retreat, the focus indoors, might also suggest a focus INSIDE.   Inside ourselves.  


What if it were possible to create the light,  that warmth from within?


But how?    And what about sudden loss, the place as in Matthew, where the ground suddenly changes, people die, and life is uncertain.  


How can we prepare to face that?   Or, beyond that, to actually be JOYFUL? 


PERHAPS Isaiah is giving us the blueprint;   “Turn swords into plowshares… pray for peace…”


It is as if it’s a roadmap on how to survive the holidays!   A way to reach the Jerusalem of WITHIN.   A city where disputes are settled, where peace reigns, where the light shines so bright, that it is like the brightest star on the darkest night.


Imagine what Christmas would feel like this year, if this were the blueprint!

Instead we get lost in what Romans terms the  “debauchery.”   The hustle, the bustle, the drunkenness, the focus on parties and distraction.   None of which takes away the dark side of the holidays, where for some there is pain.   There is death.   There is brokenness.   There are families torn apart.   There are people missing loved ones, or suffering the loss of potential loved one.  




There, on the hill, INSIDE – within our souls, within our higher power, there is that hilltop, that city, our highest selves, JERUSALEM!  Where disputes are settled, peace reigns, and prosperity and joy are available to all.  


And so again, we focus on the wish of Psalm 122: 

“May those who love you prosper!

May peace be within your walls,

prosperity in your buildings.

Because of my brothers and friends

I will say, ‘Peace be within you!’

Because of the house of the LORD, our God,

I will pray for your good.”


This Advent season, this Christmas, may we all find that inner peace, that light shining like a beacon on a hill…






1. Where is your Jerusalem? Your place of peace?  Is there a path to access it?   (meditation, prayer, yoga, bible reflection, quiet coffee with a friend, an extra daily mass once/week, music, giving to others)

2.   How do you reach your inner sanctuary, your holy place, your mountain, your light?

3.  How can we mourn the losses in our lives, yet still focus on the joy, being present in this Advent season?

4.  How can we keep the spirit of Advent and Christmas a gift we give ourselves all year long?  




Lord God, we long to go up to your house rejoicing.   We long for Jerusalem, that city with a temple erected on a hill.   A place that bathes us in a source of light, and shines as a city of joy.  


Help us Lord, to create that city, that mythical Jerusalem – for ourselves and for others.   To be that place where many seek comfort, feel joy, share burdens, and soak up peace.  


Bless our families lord, bless our own city walls within.   Where there is loss, may there be a spiritual renewal that fills the void.   Where there is discord, may swords be turned into plowshares.   Where there are challenges to realizing the joy of Christmas, may we focus on the good, and go within for nourishment and rejuvenation.


Finally Lord, may we feel quietly confident in the presence of the light.   Prepared to see you, filled with joy, not fear, and always looking ahead to the joy of what is to come.


By Shane and Dorothy Snoke-Kozak 


Sunday, December 01, 2013 
First Sunday of Advent (Blessing of Advent wreath after homily)
First Reading:
Second Reading:
Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122:1-9
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:37-44


Tags: First Sunday of Advent


Mary Ellen Burton  |  Los Angeles  |  December 4, 2013  |  9:13 PM

Thank you for the message of hope. 

Lorna H  |  Fontana  |  December 2, 2013  |  12:55 PM

Thank you for the reminder to not get caught up and lose focus. Many times in the midst of difficulties, we can forget our main goal (Christ's ways) and instead focus on the negativity. The negative may seem much easier to focus on, because it is easier to see in the moment. It may take some effort to clear the soot that blocks our goal, which is our path to Christ. It is almost like when those who do ballet or other dance, and they do a revolution. They focus on a target as they spin, they do not spin while looking at everything. If they don't keep focus on a target, they may become dizzy and fall.

Tony Phelan  |  Pasadena  |  December 2, 2013  |  11:42 AM

What a great reminder to pause in the midst of holdiay craziness and reflect.  To reach out and combat the loneliness in ourselves and those around us.

Fr. Bill Axe  |  Planet Earth, most of the time  |  December 2, 2013  |  12:40 AM

I loved the reflection--especially the part about creating the light and the warmth from within. For, as I look at the Christmas Story, for which Advent prepares us, I see a story of darkness--Joseph dreaming as he tosses and turns at night, not liking what he thinks he must do, shepherds watching flocks at night, magi traveling only at night as they follow a star--all symbols of darkness. Yet it is our faith that it was in that darkness that the Light of the World was born--as in the Creation Story--where out of the darkness and the silence, God speaks, "Let there be light." It is Christ, Himself, Who tells us, "YOU are the light of the world, and a city set on a hill cannot be hid." I think He means that as we strive to live enlightened lives, the Light shines through us. Perhaps the point is that WE are the stars guiding others who stumble along in the dark, and WE are the protectors of endangered sheep in unprotected vulnerability. Perhaps the story that is the story of the Christ is in some way OUR story, too. Who knows?

Enrique Reyes  |  Los Angeles  |  December 1, 2013  |  11:26 PM

Hi Dorothy and Shane. I really like the way you compared the mythical Jerusalem with the actual city. I can see that the message is to work on ourselves not from outside-in, but inside-out. Thank you for your reflection. 

Michelle  |  .  |  December 1, 2013  |  10:09 PM

Thus.  Advent Seasin, may we ar St.Agatha!s be beacons of light and peace in our families, on our jobs and in the world. Thank you for this reflection and retreat

Irene  |  Redondo Beach  |  December 1, 2013  |  7:30 PM

Shane & Dorothy,

Thank you for this beautiful reflection, questions and prayer on our readings on this First Sunday of Advent.

Happy Advent to all!


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