This Week’s Gospel: “Be Attentive, Awake, and Alert…”
December 3, 2017 – 1st Sunday of Advent – St. Mark 13:33–37
(Originally delivered November 30, 2008)
Jesus said to his disciples: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!'”
We think of Advent as the season of preparation for the coming of Jesus at Christmas – but Christmas has come and gone about 2,000 times. By this time, we should have a good idea how to prepare.
Unfortunately, many still do not get it. They think Christmas is just about giving and receiving gifts – about Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. They forget that Jesus is still the reason for the season.
But today’s readings are not just about preparing for Christmas. They are also about preparing for Christ’s coming at the end of time, when the world as we know it will end. The first Christians believed that the second coming was imminent and they had to maintain their spiritual and moral fervor until he returned. The four gospels were written within a hundred years of Jesus’ death, and a recurring theme is the necessity of always being ready.
Advent is also a time to prepare to welcome Jesus into our lives today. Most people know the difference between right and wrong and how we should live. We do our best, but one of our many weaknesses as human beings is a lack of staying power. Just think of all the New Year’s resolutions, diets, exercise plans and promises to pray more. We may stay on track for a while, but the enthusiasm eventually cools and flickers out and all we are left with is that weird limbo-like place called “good intentions.”
Many years have passed since Jesus walked the earth, and he still has not made that second appearance. Many have lost their fervor and commitment. “There is plenty of time.” “Maybe he isn’t coming.” “Maybe he already came and we didn’t know it.” “Maybe the whole idea is nonsense.” But the warning in today’s gospel is clear: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.”
So, how do we remain alert and awake twenty centuries after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus – and is it important that we do so? As much as we may like to deny it, our time on earth is short and fragile. All of our grand plans and magnificent achievements can vanish in one, catastrophic moment. If we are not around for the second coming, it only means that our personal “second coming” came first.
The warning of today’s gospel should not drive us to depression – but rather to a passion for the gift of each new day – and gratitude for the gift of life and for the people who enrich our lives. Gratitude for our family and friends – even for those we may never have met yet who somehow touch our lives.
Being alert also means sitting in silence and listening for the still, inner voice of God. God has probably been trying to get through to many of us for quite some time, but we have been too busy babbling to notice. Sometimes we have to shut up and let God get in a word or two.
We have to appreciate that the hour that we spend as a community with Him is the most important hour we will spend this week. Nothing – not even quality time with your family – is more important than quality time with God. When your relationship with God is on track – every other relationship is enhanced. When we appreciate that God is the most important factor of our lives – we wait and watch for Jesus’ return with cheerful anticipation.
I am reminded of the story of the Pope working at his desk, when one of his aides bursts into the room. “Holy Father, there is man coming up the stairs and he looks just like Jesus. What should we do?” The Pope calmly answered, “Look busy!”
We should be busy doing what God wants us to do – loving God and our neighbor – but part of that busyness includes being attentive – to God and to one another. We must not fix our eyes on some distant horizon waiting for Jesus to re-appear. We must stay focused on the world around us – the world we live in – and help make it the world that God wants it to be.
Today is the only day that is guaranteed to us. Yesterday is gone – and tomorrow is not assured. The only thing we can be sure of is this moment.
Jesus is present in this moment – and in every moment of our lives. He has called you to this moment. He may have called you because he has something special he wants to say to you – or just because he just wants to be with you. Be sure that you take a moment to open your heart to receive whatever word God may have for you.
Be attentive, be awake, be alert – especially to those times when you allow God into your life, for that is the only time we are truly alive.
Deacon Rich Santana