On the first Sunday of Advent the Church meditates on the fulfilment of God’s purposes in history and Christ’s role in bringing about that fulfilment. In the next three Sundays of advent attention then turns to our spiritual preparation for Christmas and the glorious birth of the Saviour.
by Fr Arek Orzechowski SDB
“Be on your guard, stay awake, because… you never know when the time will come.” In other words. Keep your eyes open, so you can see each opportunity where God wants to give you his grace.
Today, Jesus is inviting all his disciples to get ready for something important, something which will bring hope, maybe a new beginning, maybe some form of happiness. Jesus is inviting us to be watchful. But… Are we or are we not?
We look at the entire world on the Internet and on TV. We are constantly looking and watching…
…watching friends on Facebook or politics on the News,
… watching colleagues at work and
… watching family members at home.
We watch to have a bit of fun,
Perhaps to find a good example to follow… a good idea for work… and yet we find that many of stories which we watch, and many which we expect to be life-giving are, in fact, often disappointing
Jesus is inviting us to watch in a different way.
As I was driving today, I saw a homeless man sitting on the curb, shivering in the cold. He wasn’t asking for anything. There was a McDonald’s nearby. So, I decided to buy him a few burgers, a hot coffee and to put the remaining change I had in the bag. When I went to hand it to homeless man, a man in another car in front of me handed the poor man another bag of food. I just gave him mine too and he kindly thanked me. Then, I saw a girl who was crying walking on the footpath. The homeless man went up to her, gave her what I just bought him, and smiled.
Don’t fall asleep in the world of news, of games, of politic affairs, of distractions…
Stay awake within yourself!
New hope wants to come to your door and enter into your life.
Be watchful and vigilant then with a generous open heart.
1st Reading – Isaiah 63:16-17,64:1,3-8
You, Lord, yourself are our Father,
‘Our Redeemer’ is your ancient name.
Why, Lord, leave us to stray from your ways
and harden our hearts against fearing you?
Return, for the sake of your servants,
the tribes of your inheritance.
Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down!
– at your Presence the mountains would melt.
No ear has heard,
no eye has seen
any god but you act like this
for those who trust him.
You guide those who act with integrity
and keep your ways in mind.
You were angry when we were sinners;
we had long been rebels against you.
We were all like men unclean,
all that integrity of ours like filthy clothing.
We have all withered like leaves
and our sins blew us away like the wind.
No one invoked your name
or roused himself to catch hold of you.
For you hid your face from us
and gave us up to the power of our sins.
And yet, Lord, you are our Father;
we the clay, you the potter,
we are all the work of your hand.
2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 1:3-9
May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ send you grace and peace.
I never stop thanking God for all the graces you have received through Jesus Christ. I thank him that you have been enriched in so many ways, especially in your teachers and preachers; the witness to Christ has indeed been strong among you so that you will not be without any of the gifts of the Spirit while you are waiting for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed; and he will keep you steady and without blame until the last day, the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, because God by calling you has joined you to his Son, Jesus Christ; and God is faithful.
Gospel Reading – Mark 13:33-37
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come. It is like a man travelling abroad: he has gone from home, and left his servants in charge, each with his own task; and he has told the doorkeeper to stay awake. So stay awake, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming, evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn; if he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!’
Scripture readings – Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
First Reading: Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7
Our first reading today comes from the song of lament found in Isaiah 63:7-64:11. The people who had returned to Jerusalem from captivity and exile had to face the reality of a Temple that lay in ruins. Isaiah traces the cause of destruction to his own personal sin and the sin of the people. He calls out to God for help, to do truly awesome things. Can you see the clear contemporary echoes and lessons for us in this reading? Can you sense the challenge to rebuild the Church in our days? Can you sense the many dangers and distractions to faith swirling around us? Yet God is always the potter, we the clay. We need to invite God to renew and remake us. We need to pray for the wisdom to cooperate with God. We need to pray for our Church and our nation. We need to plead with God to intervene and bring us all to our senses. We need to pray that the meaning of the Christ-event be rediscovered. Lord, come and visit us in our time of need! Renew us and remake us! Do awesome things for us! Bring your divine plan for us to fulfilment! Take us in hand and make something beautiful with us, LORD!
LORD, Adonai, you are the potter, we are the clay. You are our loving father, our awesome redeemer. You are the fire in our hearts. Renew us today in your own image. Meet us when we do what is right. Lift us when we fall. Renew our church and heal our nation. Give us leaders we can trust to walk in your ways of justice and peace. Forgive our personal and our systemic failures and betrayals. Do not let us be blown away by the winds of time. LORD, as we enter Advent teach us to await your glorious day. Teach us to rejoice in your plan for the cosmos. Come and visit us in our time of need! Remake us! Rekindle within us the flame of your love! Bring your divine plan for us to fulfilment! Hold us! Make something beautiful with us and all our people! Do awesome things with us! Would that you might meet us doing right, that we might live mindful of you in all our ways! Amen.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
Psalm 80 is also a song of lament by a people in need, a cry to God to hear and help: a heartfelt prayer for conversion, deliverance, and renewal. It is the song of people who feel that God is being removed from them by poor leaders and disastrous events. Calling to mind a strong personal relationship, God is asked to take care of his vine. God is asked to shine forth in power, to pour a great blessing of care, strength and protection on God’s chosen leader. Who is this leader? It is not difficult to discern a reference to the coming Christ. For ourselves too we ask a blessing: give us new life, and we will call upon your name. All of us need to be touched by God’s life-giving, healing love.
LORD, Adonai, Shepherd of Israel, turn your glorious face to us. Save us from our folly as a nation and as a Church. Be near to us and let your light shine on us. We are your vine, you are our breath-taking vinedresser! Restore us and make us fruitful in the world! Shine forth in power! Bless the leaders you have chosen for us! Fill them with your wisdom and give them your strength! LORD, we call on your name today! Bring us back to you! Hear us and fill us with new life! Amen.
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9
The second reading draws us into the blessing and thanksgiving that opens Paul’s letter. First, he wishes the Corinthians grace and peace. Then he gives thanks for the many gifts of grace, especially the gifts of speech and knowledge, poured out on them by Christ. But Paul also reminds them that they are still awaiting the day of Christ and calls on them to remain firm to the end. God’s plan still has to come to completion: and therein lies the challenge that faces every one of us. Paul prays that they (and we) remain faithful, that they (and we) be sustained by grace, because the God who calls us to fellowship in Christ is always faithful.
Lord Jesus, draw us into the bright shelter of your blessing. Renew in us your gifts of grace. Pour out your Spirit upon us that we may cooperate with the Father’s plan. Enrich us with new awareness of your loving and life-renewing presence! Grant us the grace of genuine fidelity to your living word! Keep us firm and true in our gospel commitment. You are our shepherd! In you we lack nothing! May we learn with Paul to be bearers of good news and compassion to all our people! We trust that you are always faithful! Amen.
Gospel: Mark 13:33-37
Today we are invited to meditate on the parable of the doorkeeper whose task is to keep watch for the Master’s coming. Advent reminds us that we are the doorkeepers. It is our task to watch attentively for the day of the Lord. The challenge is to stay spiritually awake and alert, attentive and aware. We are called to be on our guard lest we fall asleep, lest we fall prey to the spiritual unawareness of so many of the people around us, the spiritual unawareness of so many in leadership. To watch attentively for Christ: this is our task as Christians. Is our spirituality alert enough for the task? Are we open and aware enough to take Christ seriously? Are we open to the gift of contemplative attention?
Lord Jesus, today we enter the season of Advent. Teach us how to become alert doorkeepers, people of prayer who know how to stay awake, watching with open hearts until you come again. Grant us your ever deeper grace of spiritual awareness! Make us attentive to the signs of your living presence in our world! Teach us how to live our Christian faith in the realities of time and place! Most of all, Lord, when you come grace us to greet you as a loving friend, with open arms and a bright welcoming smile! Amen.
The Lord is coming – we know that very well. He has not left us forever. We miss him. Our sense of his absence is his way of being present in our lives. Jesus tells us in today’s gospel that our God is a God on the move, like that householder who was liable to return at any moment. The words of Jesus were an invitation to his disciples to live in hope, and with trust in God. It is true that, like the master in the parable, God seems far away from us, from our homes, from our world and from our hearts. He is on a journey, like the householder in the parable. And like the householder, as Jesus points out, his journey is one of return. In this way Jesus gives us a reason not to lose hope during his absence, even when his coming is delayed. The servant who does not know the time of his master’s return must heed the warning and be always on his guard. He cannot rest, neither by day nor by night, as long as his master is absent and about to return. Anyone who loses hope in his master ceases to obey him.
Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
This sermon, from Mark 13, is the last sermon of Jesus in Mark’s gospel. He has just foretold the end of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. To the disciples who were admiring the beauty of the city and of the temple, these two events seemed unthinkable. They signified the end of their world – the destruction of the city of David and the absence of God. It is worth noting that Jesus’ sermon finishes with a repeated exhortation to vigilance.
The sermon is addressed to the disciples and to all those who have an attitude of vigilance as the Christian way of waiting. The exhortation, or rather the order, is repeated three times. Jesus gives a short parable to justify his warning. Not knowing the hour of the master’s coming obliges the servant to wait for him. It imposes on him a permanent state of vigilance.
In addition to justifying the request for vigilance, the parable clarifies the way of behaving expected of a disciple of Christ. When he went away, the Lord left all his servants with responsibilities that varied according to the tasks assigned to them. Each must perform his assigned task, and the doorkeeper must stay awake. The Lord’s absence is not, then, an excuse for inactivity, much less a time to dream. Not knowing the time of the master’s return imposes an obligation on the servants to be busy about their duties. Sleep and rest are forbidden until the master returns.
Living in a state of expectation means passing the day at work, as we await the one to whom we must render an account of our administration. We are still servants. If we do not accept our responsibilities we lose the goods we have received, and we lose hope. Losing hope means missing the Lord when he comes.
- Meditate: apply what the text says to life
We live in a world that continues, slowly but surely, to reduce, not only the signs of God’s presence among us, but even the footprints he left as he walked among us. We are forgetting our God and this adds to our despair. We try to entertain ourselves with the perishable goods we have been given. And we, the believers, are falling asleep! We are no longer on our guard. Worse still, we seem to be reconciled to this way of life. When we live without faith, happy to be left in peace, undisturbed in our sleep, we give the impression that we too have lost God. Still, the night is not too long. It never is for one who has hope, for one who really loves. If our memory of the absent God whom we love were a bit clearer, the waiting would be less of a burden and would not seem so long. If we really missed him, would we not wait more eagerly for his coming?
As Christians, we believe that the Lord is coming. He is our Future! If we really believe this, then we should be witnesses of hope to the world. If God still has enough trust in us to come to meet us, we have no right to suffocate the hope that is in us, nor to rob others of hope, by our idleness and sleep. It is because God’s witnesses are asleep that his servants are not vigilant, and God’s absence from our world becomes ever more noticeable, more discouraging and dramatic. We, who call ourselves believers, no longer really believe that the Lord is coming, that he is interested in this world of ours, and that he earnestly desires to return among us. Surely this is the reason for the increase in loneliness to be found in the hearts of believers, and the resigned acceptance that somehow the world of today is no longer in God’s hands.
There is one thing we can be sure of; God will return one day. Indeed, he is already on his way! We Christians should be more wide awake and more active than others, because we know that we can hope in the Lord. We know that he is coming. It is true that we do not know when he will arrive, but we know what he will demand of us. Times are difficult, there is less light in our lives, and more clouds accumulate. For this very reason we should be all the more vigilant. Our faith and our perseverance and fidelity as we wait for the Lord’s coming are a protest – discreet but effective – against the evil that exists in the world, the little world of our own hearts and the larger world around us. Living as Christians means not surrendering to appearances, not despairing in the face of the evil that is so evident today. God is coming – this means that there is something is us and in our world that makes him want to come to us, something is us that is good in his eyes. We still have something that attracts God! This is our reason for hope. And if we have even one reason to wait for the Lord’s coming, that should be enough to make us vigilant.
Meanwhile, to sustain our trust, to shorten the hours of waiting, and to make us desire God’s return with greater sincerity, we can pray. We can ask for ever more palpable signs of his presence. To overcome our loneliness we can call him to our side, crying out from our emptiness despite the clouds that surround us. Then he will know that we desire him and that we are waiting for him, and we will be wide awake because we know he is coming.
Prayer that expresses our longing for him is the surest way to avoid despair, and the best way to stay wake as we keep vigil. Prayer helps us to accept the absence of God, in our own lives and in our world, without losing hope of finding him one day. We could pray, for example, with the words of the prophet: “You, O Lord, are our Father. You have always been our redeemer. Why, then, O Lord, do you allow us to get lost on our way, to harden our hearts that they no longer fear you? Come back for love of your servants… Break open the heavens and come down, melting way the hills with your presence…!”
However, praying is not our only response during the time of waiting. Jesus reminds us that the Lord, like the master in the parable, left each one a task to do. If he left us alone, or if we feel we have been left alone, he certainly did not leave us unemployed. It is not enough, then, to wait. We have a mission to carry out. Christian hope can never be reduced to doing nothing, simply waiting for the one who is to come. Living in hope means being busy with our hands, while our hearts continue to feel the Lord’s absence. We may miss the Lord but that does not mean that we do not have work to do. There is no better way to wait for the Lord’s coming than by doing his will until he arrives.