With the 1st Sunday of Advent we welcome a new Liturgical Year, but unlike our secular celebration of the new year, we don’t do it with champagne and noisemakers. Instead the Church begins her new year with a season of solemn reflection. One secular new year’s tradition that does carry over well with our season of Advent is that of making new year’s resolutions, an opportunity to look how well we are following through with following Christ, and ask ourselves if we are ready for his return.
The Word for the 1st Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7
Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
The beginning of the new Liturgical Year also brings with it a new Lectionary cycle. Last year, Cycle A, we spent with the Gospel of Matthew, but now we transition to Cycle B with a focus on the Gospel of Mark.
Our first reading comes from the Prophet Isaiah… in this case, from third Isaiah. Here we have a vision that has us begging for God to take us back, to make us his own again. These pleadings ring true to the heart of a people who feel abandoned by God, and even though this particular passage comes from the post-exile period, it still gives us a portrait of a people yearning for a closeness to God that traditionally was authoritarian and distant. This is seen in the opening line… “You, Lord, are our father,” a phrase that we Christians find very familiar, but coming from Isaiah, was something radically new and different. Our Psalm echoes this yearning of a people begging God to see us and save us. The Psalm’s reference to the “son of man” is also very prophetic to the Christian ear.
Our second reading is from the opening of Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians. In his opening lines he is reminding the community that they have been given all they need in preparation for the end of days, and that the revelation of Christ will keep them strong to the end. As descendents of these disciples, we too have been given this knowledge and possess these same spiritual gifts.
This takes us to our Gospel from Mark, where he says quite clearly that we must always be alert and ever on watch. This warning, which comes just before Mark’s passion story, is Jesus’ final attempt to explain the trouble that is to come… not only his arrest, passion and death, but his resurrection and eventual return. These will be times of tribulation, but if we remain alert, we will not be caught unprepared. In order to better understand this Mark gives us the final parable of his Gospel… the Parable of the Watchful Servant. The master is putting his estate in our hands while he is away… a responsibility for which we should never become complacent. In other words, Jesus has given us a great responsibility, and we must care for his estate (the Church)as though his return could come at any time, and we would not want to be caught unprepared.
Are you prepared for the Master’s return? The season of Advent gives us the opportunity to ask this question of ourselves. Unfortunately this meaning can be lost in our modern secular interpretation of the Christmas season. In our eagerness to remember the coming of the infant Jesus, it’s easy to forget that we should be focused on our preparation for his second coming. Our challenge as Catholics is to reclaim our tradition of thoughtful introspection between now and Christmas. We should forgo the manufactured chaos of “black Friday” along with frenzied need for shopping and decorating and planning parties. The people who spend so much time stressing out during the holidays are those same people who are ready to kick the tree to the curb on December 26th,wrongly thinking that Christmas is over. It is in fact just beginning. Let us all remember that Christmas is not just one day, but an entire season lasting to the Epiphany. There is plenty of time for celebration and time with family and friends, so let’s ease into the holiday season by remembering that Advent is our opportunity to prepare our spirit as well as our homes, not with gifts and decorations, but with hearts ready for Christ.