1st Sunday of Advent- B

“Stay awake! You do not know when the appointed time will come.”

Today we begin the season of Advent and during this season we focus on waiting for the Lord, waiting for the coming of Jesus.  It could be seen in three ways of waiting. We know that Jesus has already come in history and we remember that during the week before Christmas our waiting changes to waiting for our celebration of the birth of Jesus. We also wait for his final coming at the end times when he will take all to himself. We also experience his daily coming into our life through the Eucharist, word of God and also in the various persons and events of life. Waiting is something very important in the life of the human person. Anytime we wait we do so because we expect something to happen or someone to come.  We wait for a bus or train because someone important has promised to come and we are ready to spend our time and wait for him. There is the eagerness within us and we look forward to the new event that will take place. During Advent we look forward to Jesus who will come in a total gesture of love:  God becomes man.  So during Advent we are conscious of the fact that God is present with us while we wait for the fulfillment of God’s plans.

The first reading contains a mix of feelings: guilt and outrage at God alternating with praise of God, humility, anguish and hope.  Isaiah expressed the hope of Israel for a powerful manifestation of God in their midst.  “Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before You.”  The prophet hoped that if God would come into their midst, the people could be faithful to Him. Acknowledging the fact that the people were unfaithful, Isaiah asked for God’s forgiveness and acceptance: “You, O Lord, are our Father; we are the clay and You are the potter: we are all the work of Your hands.”  In other words, we’re not perfect, but we are totally God’s to shape.  Here Isaiah was not anticipating Jesus’ arrival when he asked God “… to rend the heavens and come down …!  He was simply pleading with Yahweh to force those Israelites who had recently returned from the Babylonian Exile to do what was necessary to allow God to be present and active in their lives.  Isaiah was praying to Yahweh on behalf of the Israelites, “Would that You might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of You in our ways.”  He begged Yahweh, the Father of the Chosen People, for mercy.  This prayer was answered when the Son of God became man in the Incarnation.

A group of young people went to visit a famous Rabbi well known for his wisdom. To test his wisdom a young man asked the Rabbi, Master I want to be in heaven after my death. So how many days before my death shall I prepare for that?  Immediately Rabbi replied, one day before the death. This was an unexpected answer for the young man. Still he braved to ask, but how I will know when I am going to die? In a calm voice Rabbi replied, since we do not know the time, better start preparing now otherwise it may be too late.  The time is now to organize our lives with right priorities.

The Gospel is the conclusion of a speech found in Mark 13, in which Jesus foretells his Second Coming, at the end of time or at the end of the world.   Mark reminded his community in Rome of Jesus’ words, “Be constantly on the watch! Stay awake! You do not know when the appointed time will come.” The evangelist knew that if an expected event didn’t happen as quickly as expected, people would stop doing the things they ought to do.  Hence, Mark reminded them of Jesus’ parable about the gatekeeper in the house of a traveling master. Since the master was traveling, his servant must be constantly alert, “at dusk, at midnight, when the cock crows, or at early dawn.” There was always a fear that the master would come home “suddenly and catch you asleep.” In such situations one must constantly, “be on guard!” When Paul and Mark spoke about the things to come, it was only to remind their readers that their present behavior wasn’t measuring up to what Christ’s second coming demanded of them.

Unfortunately, sometimes our world is not watchful or alert and we miss God and the goodness of God.  Sometimes we miss the call of God to get into action. Sometimes we don’t connect with God in the poverty and struggles of the people of the world. As individuals or as a society, we wander away from God and God’s values.  Today might be a good time to reflect on those things in our society and culture that keeps us from being alert and alive to God and God’s values. There seem to be so many pressures and values, which indoctrinate us and keep us from being what God wants us to be.  So many ways of thinking and seeing are in tension with the values of Catholic Social Teaching. We need to be aware of them so that we can be truly free and alert.

As we look at our culture, we might way to reflect on the following:
1. The individualistic and selfish mentality that keeps us from solidarity and the common good
2. The temptation to rely on power, position and even violence instead of love and active nonviolence
3. The tendency to accumulate wealth instead of sharing material resources
4. The practice of judging things from the limited view of our culture alone
5. The lack of respect for life
6. The excessive power of the media, which limits our vision
7. The ideological perspectives from left and right which keep us from seeing clearly.
8. The lack of direct contact with those who are in need or different than ourselves.

The list could go on and on.  The challenge is to open our eyes and be alert and aware, so that we can know the biases of our culture, make this list concrete, and begin to see things from a bigger viewpoint. In the face of all the challenges, we are invited to have hope. The second reading from the first letter to the Corinthians reminds us to rejoice in the spirit of Jesus who will help and set us free. Those who are worried about the poor in the midst of our economic recession are hoping for policies that help those who are most in need. As Christians we are always called to be people of hope. This is a good thing. However, as Christians we know that no political system or leadership will be perfect.  We know that we always need as Jesus says today to be “watchful and alert.”  We are called to open our eyes to the needs of all our brothers and sisters.