Reflections on Sundays in Advent, Year B
FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
“Be on your guard, stay awake…”
Mark 13: 33-37
It may seem surprising that the reading selected for the First Sunday of Advent is not taken from the earlier part of Mark’s Gospel but from Chapter 13 – a section dealing with the ‘end time’. From the literary point of view, it is one of the most elaborate and carefully constructed passages in the entire Gospel. It is rather like a farewell speech. Yet, the contents can also be read in the context of how we are to prepare for the coming of Christ today.
Despite the trials, tribulations and natural catastrophes of the present moment Mark reassures us that God will intervene on the part of his people. God can come to us at any time; in Jesus Christ the fulfilment is always near at hand.
(a) It touches us in our meeting with the Word of God;
(b) it lays a claim on us in every decision to believe and to act as a Christian, and
(c) it comes to us in a unique way in our personal death. Mark sees the end of all things always before us. We are reminded to ‘Watch’, for “you do not know when the Master is coming.”
This first Sunday of Advent speaks the language of hope. Advent forces us to face that serious question: what are we to do about our hopes, ideals and plans? We need Advent in order to be guided by Church prayer and biblical readings. Advent can restore the optimism, vitality and innocent joy of youthful hope. It may be that God will use our sacrifices to shower blessings in another part of the world which we will never visit.
The entire thirteenth chapter of Mark’s Gospel tells us how to live while we wait for Christ’s return, or Second Coming. We are asked by the Church to set aside more time than usual in order to live more intensely in God’s presence. As we listen to the Scriptures, secret possibilities come to the surface.
The challenge for all of us this year, as we celebrate the World Meeting of Families, is to form one, loving, forgiving family in our neighbourhood or country or world and, most poignantly of all, in our own homes. St. Irenaeus reminds us that “if Christ were to be born in a hundred stables, it would be of no avail were he not born in our hearts.” Advent is also a call to newness – an invitation to return to the sources of our life, awakening us to new possibilities of ‘kindness and love’. We are advised to wait, pray, be patient and persevering. The Lord will surely come. The authority given by Jesus to the twelve Apostles is operative also in the community: “What I say to you, I say to all: stay awake” (v. 37). The way to prepare for the coming of Christ is to reflect on God’s word and to live by its instructions each day.
Following the example of his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis has made joy one of the hallmarks of his papacy. It’s a joy in the simple things of life and a focus on sharing God’s love with everyone we meet. Joy is deeper than mere happiness: it’s a way of looking at the world that sees hope and possibility. Events and people and material things can make us happy, but if we bring an inner disposition of joy to our lives, we will be surprised by the way we can change ourselves and the people around us.
Jesus tells us, as he told his disciples in Gethsemane, to stay awake and watch. “What I say to you, I say to all: “Stay awake!”
The temptation is to ‘skip’ Advent and move directly to Christmas. But we are invited to stand in solidarity with the poor – with those who have no choice but to wait and trust that God will intervene in their lives through our concern for them, expressed in acts of kindness and of love. We must not be discouraged. The Ven. P.B. Noailles, reminds us that “the works of God are never more fruitful than when they appear to be on the verge of ruin.” In the words of St. John Paul II, may we become “a burning hearth where men and women can draw light and warmth for the life of the world.”
Points for group reflection and sharing
We often hear the expression, ‘Can’t wait’, when something new and exciting is about to happen. Waiting is the major theme in the selection from the Gospel for the first Sunday of Advent: “Keep watch…Be on your guard…Stay awake…” because you never know when the time will come.” The entire thirteenth chapter of Mark’s Gospel tells us how to live while we wait for Christ’s return.
- Meister Eckhart invites us to contemplate the incarnate God in our midst today, in this place, as in a ‘human’ being over two thousand years ago in Bethlehem. Where might you contemplate God’s presence today…e.g. ‘in the bloom of a flower, the dawning of a new day, the emergence of a fresh idea, a new discovery in science? All these moments of birth share in the Birth at Bethlehem.
- If Jesus lived today what would be his most urgent concern? What would he see as the greatest problem of our time?
- Together, we are the Body of Christ. How might we become more aware of this as we gather to celebrate the Eucharist?
- How do we understand ‘family’ today, especially in the wider context of an expanding universe?