Sunday of Week 1 of Advent (B)- Alternate Commentary

Commentary on Isaiah 63:16-17, 64:1.3-8; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37

ONCE MORE we come to the beginning of another liturgical year. Today we begin Cycle B in the three-year cycle of Sunday Scripture readings. The gospel passages during the ‘ordinary’ Sundays of this year will follow the Gospel according to Mark.

Clearly the theme of today’s Mass is that of ‘coming’. The word ‘Advent’ (from the Latin adventus), as we know, means ‘coming’.

Advent primarily is a period of four weeks in preparation for the celebration of Christmas, when we remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. However, there is no explicit mention whatever in today’s readings of anything that seems to do with Christmas or getting ready for its celebration. Today’s readings are more concerned with the ultimate purpose why Jesus, the Son of God, “became a human being and lived among us” (John 1:14).Each year, the First Sunday of Advent makes a clear link in continuity with the final Sundays of the previous liturgical year. We saw at the end of Cycle A that there were many readings about the final coming of Jesus at the end of time and of the need of each one of us to prepare to come face to face with Jesus our Lord and King and “give an account of our stewardship”.

More than one ‘coming’
That theme, in the context of Advent, is continued today. It is clear that at this time the word ‘Advent/Coming’ is being understood on more than one level. First of all, of course, we are preparing ourselves during what is basically a penitential period (the vestment colours are violet, as in Lent) to celebrate in a fitting manner the coming of Jesus and the manifestation of God among us as a human being.

But secondly, we are also being reminded of the reason why Jesus was born among us in the first place, namely, to be our salvation, our wholeness. He comes now so that we may be equipped and ready to meet him when he comes again at the end of time “to judge the living and the dead”. Then we hope to hear his words of welcome, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). It is this coming which features in today’s Gospel passage.

There is, however, we may say, a third coming which is also of crucial importance. This is when God enters into our daily life and calls us to follow him and be with him. God not only came in Jesus at Bethlehem; he not only will come at the end of time to gather us all to himself; he comes into our lives at every moment, through every person and every experience. For God in Jesus is our Emmanuel, God-with-us. “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20).

First coming
Each of these three comings interacts with the others. The coming of Jesus at Bethlehem is the foundation for our present and future life with him. If he had not so come, where would we be right now? What would Europe, not to mention other parts of the world be like, if there had never been Christianity? God alone only knows. The so-called final coming is that for which our whole life is a preparation. We have been called into being for one reason only, to become totally united with our Creator God. The only failure in life is not to be in a position to answer that final call. Everything else, absolutely everything else, is relative. To realise this is the greatest grace we could ask for or receive.

The daily coming of Jesus into our lives is the process by which we deepen our understanding of who Jesus was and is and become more and more identified with his vision of God and of the meaning of life. With this identification we are not only ready but eager to meet and be one with our God. “As a deer longs for a stream of cool water, so I long for you, my God” (Psalm 42); “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the Lord’s house!'” (Psalm 122).

By keeping all these comings in mind at the same time, we can make our celebration of Christmas more meaningful. Christmas, in many ways, has become so meaning-less or has developed a meaning far removed from the Gospel story. It consists of lots of lights, Santa Claus, reindeer, Christmas cards, and endless wining and dining. Christmas is not a mere commemoration of a past event. Christmas only becomes meaningful when we realise what it is saying in terms of our present and future life.

Today’s Gospel, then, is speaking on the level of the future and present comings of Jesus. The key word is ‘readiness’. “Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come.”

Being ready
Jesus gives a parable about a man travelling abroad. He does two things: he gives various responsibilities to his servants to be carried out while he is away; and he warns the doorkeeper to be vigilant. This, in a way, covers the two Matthean parables we read towards the end of the previous cycle’s readings: the parable of the ‘talents’, when the servants were told to make productive use of what they had been given by their master, and the parable of the wise and foolish virgins about readiness for the coming of the bridegroom.

“Stay awake, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming, evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn. If he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep… Stay awake!” And, as we have pointed out before, in practical terms we are not really talking about the end of time but of the end of our own time. It is not likely, without any warning, that our planet or our solar system, or the universe at large will be snuffed out. It is very likely, however, that many of us will be called to meet our Lord at any time without the slightest warning. We see it happening every day.

But that should not be any problem for those who live permanently in a state of awareness of the closeness of God in their lives. It is not really difficult for us to develop the habit of living our day with a sense of his closeness to us, although it is a habit that can only come with practice. It can make such a difference to the quality of our life, apart altogether from being ready for the end, to spend each day seeking and finding God in the people around us, loving and serving him in them and being loved and served by him in them.

We the clay
Instead of trying to struggle against reality, trying to manipulate life and people to fit in with our dreams and preconceived ambitions, we need to hear the words of Isaiah today, “Lord, you are our Father; we the clay, you the potter, we are all the work of your hand.” Paul had to learn that lesson. He had decided that his mission in life was to destroy these new Christians. It was on one of these search-and-destroy missions that he was struck to the ground and heard Jesus say to him, “Saul, Saul! Why are you persecuting me? You are hurting yourself by hitting back, like an ox kicking against its owner’s stick”. So many of us kick against the Master’s goad and wonder why our lives do not have that happiness and peace we long for. It was the same Paul, who, later on, was to say, “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Finding Jesus all around us
Readiness is not only for the end but also for the daily stream of experiences that make up our ordinary day. Jesus is there. Do not fight him. Let him mould you into his likeness, into the likeness of God, to become a person of integrity and truth, of love and compassion, of freedom and peace.

Finally, we are not on our own in all of this. With Paul, in the Second Reading, we never stop thanking God for all the graces we have received through Jesus Christ. “I thank him,” says Paul, “that you have been enriched in so many ways, especially in your teachers and preachers.” There are so many resources available for us to grow into a deeply enriched and enriching Christian life in terms of guides, directors, books, videos, tapes, retreats, seminars, workshops, sharing groups and communities. We need not be without any of the gifts of the Spirit “while [we] are waiting for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed”. And “he will keep [us] steady and without blame until the last day, the day of our Lord Jesus Christ”.

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!

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