Sunday of week 1 of Advent (B)

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

WE BEGIN TODAY a new Church year. So we can wish each other: Happy New Year! As usual, we begin the year with the four Sundays of Advent leading up to Christmas.

‘Advent’ is a word we use in ordinary English and it comes from a Latin word which simply means ‘coming’. So we speak of the ‘advent of winter’ or the ‘advent of the holiday season’.

In our case, what coming are we talking about? Obviously, it is the coming of Jesus at Christmas. And that is true but it is a little more than that. The readings of today’s Mass actually speak of three comings of Jesus. All three are inseparably connected with each other.

First coming

The first coming is the one we will celebrate at Christmas, the coming of the Son of God as a human being, born of Mary in a stable at Bethlehem.

It is this coming that the First Reading from Isaiah looks forward to with anticipation. “Return for the sake of your servants… Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down!” cries the prophet.

Why does he make this call? Because we desperately need our God: “We had long been rebels against you. We were all like people unclean, all that integrity of ours like filthy clothing. We have all withered like leaves and our sins blew us away like the wind.”

We need our God to come visibly among us so that he can help us to straighten out our lives, so that we may see more clearly in what direction our lives should go, so that we can restore our relationship with our God and with all his children around us.

We need our God: by ourselves, there is very little we can do. “You are our Father, we the clay, you the potter, we are all the work of your hand.” Make us, mould us, heal us – that is the cry of Advent. And it will be answered in the stable at Bethlehem.

Another coming

But there is another coming we must be deeply aware of. The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem was an event in the past, a historical event. But there is the coming of Jesus each and every day into our lives. This is an ongoing presence which reflects the ongoing presence of our Creator since the first moments our universe took its beginnings billions of years ago. He comes in every person, in every experience, in every happening. Let us not be so busy looking back at the Christmas event that we fail to be aware of his presence here and now.

So, St Paul tells the Christians of Corinth in today’s Second Reading, rejoicing that Jesus has already come and what it means for our daily lives. “I never stop thanking God for all the graces you have received through Jesus Christ. I thank him that you have been enriched in so many ways.”

We too can thank God for all that Jesus has brought and continues to bring into our lives, the countless helps he gives us to lead a good life. We do that best by constantly being aware of his presence and action in the people around us. We are helped by so many people, most of whom we do not know, have never seen.

For instance, just think of all the people who, by their labours, make available the food and drink we will have this day. How often do we thank God for all that he does through so many unknown brothers and sisters? Every time we peel an orange or drink a cup of coffee, think of the huge number of people, many of them working under oppressive conditions, who have brought that lovely taste and lovely aroma into my life. How often do I thank God? How often do I thank them? For through them God’s love and care come into my life.

And that goes on day in and day out; it is so easy to take it all for granted. Today, count your blessings. They are all the sign of Jesus living and active among us, of Jesus coming into my life.

Still another coming

Paul goes on, “The witness to Christ has been strong among you so that you will not be without any of the gifts of the Spirit while you are waiting for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” That brings us to the third coming, when Jesus, at the end of time, will come to take all creation to himself.

We need the help of Jesus now so that we can be fully ready to meet the Jesus when he comes to call us. “He will keep you steady and without blame until the last day, the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So the Gospel today reminds us of the need to be ready, to be alert, to be awake, not asleep. We have no idea when the Lord will come to call us. Every day in the papers we read of people being snatched away by accidents, car crashes, sudden illnesses.

Jesus is like a householder who has gone abroad. He has left his servants – that is, you and me – in charge of his affairs, each one with his own task. What is my task, my role in this world?

“Stay awake because you do not know when the master will come back – evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn…. And he must not find you asleep. Stay awake.” How do we do that? Very simply.

We keep in touch with those around us by each day doing our best to live lives of love, of compassion, of forgiveness, of honesty and integrity. We keep in touch with our God through lives of prayer. And the simplest and deepest prayer is to be aware of the active presence of God and Jesus permeating every single moment of every single day. “O Lord, help to recognise you and respond to you in love through every person and every experience of this day.”

If we live constantly in this way, there will nothing whatever to fear. We will be ready for the Lord whenever and however he comes and will run forward to meet him as a friend to a friend.

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