First Sunday of Advent
Reading 1 IS 63:16B-17, 19B; 64:2-7
Responsorial Psalm PS 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
- Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.
Reading 2 1 COR 1:3-9
Alleluia PS 85:8
Gospel MK 13:33-37
Homily—December 2 & 3, 2017
It’s the First Sunday of Advent, and you have just received an invitation: The Most High God requests the honor of your presence at the entry of his Son into the world. This unprecedented event will be followed by a joyous celebration in two locations: heaven and earth. The event will take place on December 25, and you are encouraged to spend the next four weeks preparing for the festivities.
Welcome to another liturgical year, a new opportunity to prepare our minds and hearts for the coming of Jesus into the world on Christmas Day. Much like parents who wait, hope, dream and prepare for the arrival of their first child, there is an excitement that surrounds these days leading up to Christmas.
We enter this season with a gospel reading from Mark chapter 13. Jesus speaks about the coming end time, encouraging Peter, James, John, and Andrew (and us) to be watchful, to be prepared and to recognize the signs of the times. The passage concludes this ominous chapter with the key word “watch” that occurs in all but one verse. “Watch” is an appropriate word with which to begin our Advent season. We are to be prepared for the Lord’s coming not knowing precisely when that will be. We, like the gatekeeper, keep watch in the evening, at midnight, at dawn, and in the morning. Like the early disciples we know not when he comes, but that he is coming. Many novelists have written books using this chapter to try to figure out precisely when the end time will be. Though Scripture clearly states that nobody knows the day or hour, these charlatans claim to know the month and year, and you can too if you buy their books! Everyone who has given a date on which the world will end has been 100 percent wrong.
Today we read this passage from Mark 13 not as a code book to discern the exact “when” of the end time, while wondering what the “desolating abomination standing” is and when that might occur. Rather, we recognize that Mark wrote at a time when the early Christians expected Jesus’ imminent return. The four apostles in the story were likely dead by the time of this writing. It might have seemed that Jesus was not coming back as he had promised. So the readers of Mark’s gospel were given a new promise, “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” These early Christians saw in the evens of their time “nation rising against nation,” “earthquakes,” and “famines,” as the “beginnings of the labor pains” signifying the end was near. But unfortunately, we know these kinds of cataclysmic events happen with some regularity. That generation did in fact pass away. The early Christians did not imagine we would be reading this gospel two thousand years later.
Still, we can discern the signs of our own times and recognize the Lord’s coming, perhaps not in an apocalyptic sense, but in the Christmas incarnation. That is, Jesus, the Word of God, comes to us in flesh and blood. Jesus is the incarnation of God, and he comes to us sacramentally in the Eucharist. Each generation seems to say the end is near. While we are looking to the sky for signs of the end time, the Lord is in our midst in weakness and vulnerability. Do we see Jesus present in that disguise? The key word for this Sunday is “watch.” But we may also say, “recognize.”
Many times we are impressed by big events like fireworks, Christmas lights in Murphy Park, music concerts like The Joy of Christmas with Martina McBride etc. We mark special events with parties, celebrations, dinners, family, friends, and loved ones. Christianity is also about finding meaning in the small seemingly inconsequential events in our lives. Changing a diaper is a routine task for parents, but it is also an act of charitable love. Preparing a meal for a family gathering can be tedious and time-consuming, but it too is an act of charitable love. Being fully present to another can be difficult for us who are accustomed to checking mobile devices several times an hour, but it is an act of charitable love. It is our everyday tasks done with intention and meaning that can make the difference between routine and a day filled with self-giving love.
How do our readings orient us to enter into this shortest possible Advent season—just 22 days long? Traditionally, we talk about Advent as a time of waiting. But this week’s readings emphasize watching—watching for the signs of God’s presence, watching for the ways in which God desires to act as the potter of the clay of our lives. Jesus told the disciples that the master could show up at any hour—when we should be at our task or in moments of well-deserved rest. The task of discipleship then is not so much to be busy as it is to stay alert.
Like the characters of Mark’s Gospel, we can easily miss his arrival. If Mark were writing today, he would perhaps use other symbols for that spirit of distraction. “Be watchful? Be alert? May he not find you obsessing over trivia, lusting after images on the internet, preoccupied with your phone or indulging in hate, fear or greed.” May we use these weeks before Christmas to put away our distractions and put our faith in Christ once again.