First Sunday of Advent, Modern

Isaiah 63: 16B – 17, 19B; 64: 2 – 7, I Corinthians 1:3 – 9, Mark 13; 33 – 37

We begin Advent with the same message that we heard a couple of weeks ago near the end of the church year. This Gospel sums it up with two words, “watchful and alert.” We don’t know when the Lord is coming so watch and be ready to greet and welcome him. In our human experiences how we are watchful and alert is determined in part by the one we are waiting for. If we are waiting for a person who acts like a tyrant, is never satisfied and always highly critical, then we stay alert and watch so as to be prepared for the unpleasant experience that we anticipate at his arrival. If the one we are waiting for is a person of reason and fairness we anticipate his arrival by doing our best.

What does it mean to you when Jesus tells us to be watchful and alert? If we perceive Jesus as a judge who holds every fault against us, somewhat like Santa Claus who is making his list, we can be filled with anxiety and fear about his Return in Glory. If, however, we see Jesus as the Divine Physician who longs to heal us so much that he died on the cross so that we could be spared eternal punishment. This image can fill us with humility, contrition and gratitude for his healing as we await his glorious return. The readings today call us to be watchful and alert by allowing God into our lives so as to help us with the ongoing conversion that brings us closer to the Lord each day.

Isaiah uses a beautiful image to get across our relationship with God. He calls God, “Father” and describes our relationship as one in which; “we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.” God gently fashions us and molds us with his own hands. He smooths away the rough edges and carefully molds us into his image and likeness. We each have rough edges and we can have the attitude that it is better to hide them from God and escape his wrath, then to let him see them. Of course we cannot hide anything from God. When we freely confess these we invite the hand of God to touch us and fashion us and heal us.

Saint Paul begins the First Letter to the Corinthians with the warm greeting and encouragement over all the good things the Lord is doing for them. It’s a greeting that we should receive for all our efforts to be faithful. In his letter he continues to instruct them and to also correct them. It is Paul’s way of helping the Corinthians to be watchful and alert. It is also the church’s way today to help us. We need the continued opportunities of growth and conversion so as to be watchful and alert.

As we begin Advent we have the choice of how we wait for the Lord. We can be sitting in the courtroom waiting to be judged and sentenced, or we can be waiting in the doctor’s office waiting for the physician to treat and heal us. Both of these require one to be alert and watch. Hopefully we will approach Advent waiting for the Divine Physician. This involves knowing ourselves well enough that we are honest about our need to visit the doctor’s office, rather than pretending that there is nothing wrong, or we can take care of it ourselves. Be alert and watchful of those parts of our lives that need the healing touch of Jesus and expectantly wait for his coming.

Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.