We begin Advent and the new church year with the same message we heard near the end of the church year; it is a call to be “watchful and alert.” We heard the parables of the wise and foolish virgins, the master entrusting servants with talents, and the clear message last week of being prepared for when the Son of Man returns and he will separate the good from the bad like a shepherd separates sheep from goats. In these parables as well as the Gospel today Jesus makes it clear that we don’t know when the Lord is coming so watch and be ready to greet and welcome him.
What does it mean when Jesus tells us to be watchful and alert? If we perceive Jesus as a judge who holds every fault against us, we can be filled with fear and anxiety regarding his Second Coming. Rather than it being his Return in Glory we view it as his return in wrath. If, however, we see Jesus as the one who came into the World as He announced in the beginning of John’s Gospel; “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:17, we can be at peace as we await the return of the Divine Physician. This image can fill us with humility, contrition and gratitude for his healing as we await his glorious return. The readings today call us to be watchful and alert by allowing God into our lives to help us with the ongoing conversion that brings us closer to the Lord each day.
Isaiah describes our relationship with God in a beautiful way. He calls God, “Father” and describes our relationship as one in which; “we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.” God gently fashions us and molds us with his own hands. He smooths away the rough edges and carefully molds us again and again into his image and likeness as we continually struggle with sin and wander away. We each have rough edges and we can have the attitude that it is better to hide them from God and escape his wrath, than to let him see them even though we know we cannot hide anything from God. When we freely acknowledge and confess our sins we invite the hand of God to touch us and fashion us and heal us.
Saint Paul never lost sight of how God was always present with him, even during suffering and persecutions. He begins the First Letter to the Corinthians with the warm greeting and encouragement over all the good things the Lord is doing for them. It’s a greeting that we should receive for all our efforts to be faithful. In his letter he continues to instruct them and to also correct them. Correction and instruction is the way that helps us get back on, or stay on the right track. We need the continued opportunities of growth and conversion in order to be watchful and alert.
As we begin Advent we have the choice of how we wait for the Lord. We can be sitting in the courtroom waiting to be judged and sentenced, or we can be waiting in the doctor’s office waiting for the physician to treat and heal us. Both require one to be alert and watch. Hopefully we will approach Advent waiting for the Divine Physician. This involves knowing ourselves well enough that we are honest about our need to visit the doctor’s office, rather than pretending that there is nothing wrong, or we can take care of it ourselves. 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.