Scripture Readings: Isaiah 63:16-17,19; 64:2-7; First Corinthians 1:3-9; Gospel According to Mark 13:33-37
The season of Advent always calls us to a sense of hope, that God loves us, has sent his Son to redeem us, and that no one is excluded from God’s loving care and protection. That is the basis of our belief in a personal God, who knows us by name, cares for us and never abandons us. That does not negate the fact of our free will, the ability to choose what is right and good, to heed God’s voice and God’s grace in our lives. At the same time, we are always free not to choose the good, since God never forces us, but always lovingly invites us.
As we begin a new Liturgical Year with this first Sunday of Advent, we are invited by the Church to take to heart the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel text: “Be constantly on the watch! Stay awake. Be on your guard.” Doing so does not mean being filled with anxiety or stress about the coming of the Lord, which takes each day and at the end of earthly journey, but it does mean making the most of the opportunities presented us to each day. We can especially draw near to the Lord in prayer and in the reception of the Sacraments, by being of services to others, those near and dear to us and those who are strangers.
Saint Paul reminds the believers in Corinth that they “have what it takes,” as we might express it today, to do good, to grow in wisdom and holiness. Paul says: “In every way you are enriched in Christ Jesus with all speech and knowledge, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gifts.”
Those are strong words, but intended to be encouragement for all, including ourselves, who may at times or even often feel inadequate or not quite “up to the task” the Lord sets before us, today and every day.
Advent reminds us of human potential, of fully receiving the Lord into our lives, and of our capability of being perfectly happy in the Kingdom of God to which we have been invited. The primary focus of Advent, of course, in on the coming of God in human form in the person of Jesus Christ. He came two millennia ago, comes to us each day, and will come at the end of our lives and at the end of the ages.
Scripture and our Christian tradition teach that there is a “particular judgement,” at the time of our passing from this life at the time of our death, and of the “universal judgement,” at the end of time. How these two realities work themselves out in God’s time and ways is a mystery, but we as individuals and as Church are not to be taken by surprise, but always ready, by lives lived attentively and in love. If so, there is no need of fear, anxiety or dread at the Lord’s coming. As the saying goes: “smile, God loves you.” However, we must do much more than simply “smile” at God’s action in our lives. We must more appropriately “leap for joy,” for our God comes to save us.
Advent is a time to revive what might be dormant within us, restoring our optimism and strengthening our wavering hopes. The beautiful words of the Prophet Isaiah should enlighten our minds and our hearts, when the prophet prays to God in this quintessentially Advent phrase: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down.” That is exactly what our God has done and is doing for us. It is cause for great joy! This is what we celebrate in this season of Advent, which at its root is the notion of the coming of Christ.
Waiting for the Lord does not mean being idle or doing nothing. The Lord is very emphatic about our stance in our time of waiting: “Do not let the Lord come suddenly and catch you asleep.” Yes, the Lord will surely come and may come suddenly, but what he brings is beyond our wildest dreams or our deepest hopes. May we wait with prayer and patience, enthusiasm and doing our best, persevering in our daily call to know, love and serve the Lord and our neighbor to the best of our ability. As our Brother Andre likes to say: “don’t try to do you best, but do your best.”
A blessed Advent to all.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB