Mark 13: 33–37
In this gospel passage Jesus illustrates the mystery of his future, final coming in power and glory with a simple parable. He says to his disciples: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” He compares his final coming to a man traveling abroad who had placed his servants in charge of his house. The servants must do the work assigned to them, and the gatekeeper must be on constant watch awaiting the return of the master of the house. The parable, with its accompanying admonition to work and watch for the Lord’s final advent, completes Chapter 13 of Mark’s gospel—Jesus’ last teaching before his passion.
The First Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of a new church year: the liturgical actualization for us of the saving events of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. The gospel passage proclaims the essential truth that will be celebrated in all its dimensions throughout the year—namely, the “advent” truth that God has come in the person of Jesus Christ, and that the same Lord, now invisibly present through the Spirit, will come again in power and glory.
This Sunday’s homily might serve as an overture, anticipating some of the life implications of the Lord’s coming which will be celebrated on the Sundays and holy days of the coming year. Here are a few of the major themes.
In the first reading from the prophet Isaiah, we hear that the exiles have returned from Babylon to find their homeland devastated and the holy temple destroyed. We can remember the prophet’s prayerful plea and make it our own at those times when our life-situation appears hopeless, and God seems far away: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down” (Isaiah 63: 19).
Paul, in the second reading from his First Letter to the Corinthians, presents a life implication that can also be a constant throughout the coming year. Paul assures us that the heavens have been rent, and God has come among us. Jesus, the Risen Lord, is now truly “God with us.” Because of this grace, we are able to stand firm with the Lord’s strength as we await his final revelation in glory. And as we wait, despite difficulties and suffering, we thank God always for the gifts of the Spirit that we have received.
Because the Church gives us the gospel in the context of the celebration of the liturgy, we are reminded that throughout the year the Lord comes, not only to proclaim the word, but also comes to give himself to us as friend and life-giving savior. It is in the context of the liturgy of the Last Supper that Jesus says to his disciples: “I have called you friends” (John 15: 15).
The First Sunday of Advent is also a good moment to hear a major theme of the liturgical drama—every human being, particularly a person in need, is a sign or sacrament of the Lord’s coming. In fact, as Jesus tells us in the parable of his final Advent, our treatment of even the least of his brothers or sisters will be the essential criterion of judgment (Matthew 25: 30–46).
Finally, there is the beautiful Advent theme of the sacrament of the present moment. Each moment, each event of our life is a sign of the Lord’s coming. Whatever the moment, we can say in faith: It is the Lord. And it is the Lord who awaits our response of love and gratitude.
“The one who gives this testimony says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22: 20).
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.