Isaiah 63: 16B – 17, 19B; 64: 2 – 7, I Corinthians 1:3 – 9, Mark 13; 33 – 37
“Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have strength” This is the advice Jesus gives in the Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent. He is speaking to his disciples about the signs that will take place before the second coming.
The Old Testament is full of prophecies that tell the people what signs to look for that will point to the coming of the Messiah, and how to recognize him when he comes. These were fulfilled in the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. Yes, there were those who were attentive to the signs, yet failed to recognize Jesus as Messiah. Those who did recognize him were astonished to discover as they followed him that he was far more than Messiah; he was Lord, God made man for us. Their observance of the signs of their times, and the words of Jesus, strengthened their faith and they were able to get through the difficulty days of the death of Jesus, rejoice in the resurrection, and endure the persecutions and sufferings that followed. Indeed, excluding Judas, all the Apostles except John suffered a martyr’s death. As they grew in faith they were able to accept and embrace suffering and death as being their ultimate witness of Jesus.
One of the dangers we have during Advent is to focus only on the preparation of Christmas, and to celebrate the birth of Jesus. What am amazing event this was for the world, but Advent is meant also to be a preparation for us for the Second Coming of Christ. In the Gospel Jesus tells us that we don’t know when the Lord is coming so watch and be ready to greet and welcome him. In our human experiences how we are watchful and alert is determined in part by the one we are waiting for. If we are waiting for a person who acts like a tyrant, is never satisfied and always highly critical, then we stay alert and watch so as to be prepared for the unpleasant experience that we anticipate at his arrival. If the one we are waiting for is a person of reason and fairness we anticipate his arrival by doing our best.
We are called to be watchful and alert for the coming of Jesus, to notice the signs that prepare us for his coming. The Gospel points out that those who are not prepared or understand will not only be afraid, but “People will die of fright.” However, Jesus tells his followers that there is no need to be afraid for our redemption is near at hand. For those who seriously embrace the gift of faith the signs will not be a source of fear for us.
As we begin Advent let us call to mind the beauty of Jesus’ birth two thousand years ago and of how that changed the world, and our lives. In John’s Gospel we have that famous verse “For God so solved the world that he sent his only son.” Let us also keep in mind that Jesus is coming again. We can take that same verse from John and apply it to his second coming. God so loves the world that he will send his son, again. Hopefully we will approach Advent waiting with attentiveness for the second coming. This involves knowing ourselves well enough that we are honest about our need for a savior. Be alert and watchful of those parts of our lives that need the healing touch of Jesus and expectantly wait for his coming.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.