First Sunday Of Advent, Year B.
Isaiah 63:16-17, 64:1, 3-8 – 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 – Mark 13:33-37.
This Sunday, the Church embarks upon a new liturgical season. Each liturgical season carries with it a particular message and particular graces for us. The season of Advent is a period of expectant waiting and of preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus. Here, in the Northern hemisphere, Advent is a winter-time liturgy which cries out like a herald into the cold, dark, dreary, and fruitless days of the soul’s experience the Good News of the coming of the Lord. Advent (from the Latin ‘Adventus’, a composite of ‘ad’ meaning ‘to’ and ‘venire’ meaning ‘to come’ or ‘to arrive’) brings us the grace of hope despite the earthly chills of Winter and the empty wastes of the winter of the spirit. In our scientifically-advanced era, most of us don’t have to endure the harshness of winter and its long dark days any more: at the flick of a switch, darkness can be flooded out with light and cold can be banished by warmth. Just think, though, how awful it would be to have to go through the depths of winter with no electric lighting and with no form of heating. It would be such a miserable, wretched experience, wouldn’t it? The season of Advent comes upon us just as the hours of daylight are diminishing and the longest night is approaching, and you might well be tempted to think that the descending physical gloom would be accompanied by a gloomy winter of the liturgy. Not so! While Advent is a penitential season, it is the season of preparation for the light of God – for God who is Himself the Light of the world – flooding into the world at Christmas. Advent ought to be a time of careful preparation on our part for the arrival of God, God whose birth was anticipated for nine months after His Incarnation, and God whose parousia will occur suddenly and without warning (Mt 24:27). We should not be alarmed at the thought of the Lord Jesus coming again suddenly to complete the work of uniting heaven and earth in the Kingdom of God. He tells us time and time again: “do not be afraid”. He reassures us that He is always with us in the present moment, no matter how deep the darkness and the chaos of the world seems to us to be.
As we stumble our way through this life, it is essential for us to keep our gaze focused on Him and to be watchful. On this 1st Sunday of Advent, the liturgical year opens with the very important themes of ‘watching’ and ‘staying awake’ during our earthly pilgrimage. In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us the example of the doorkeeper to instruct us on the importance of cultivating a vigilant faith, of practising the Faith rather than being Catholic in name only. We have to use such time as is given to us well, because the days are evil (Eph 5:16). In other words, while we are waiting for Jesus’ return (like the faithful servants in today’s Gospel, and the young women waiting for the groom Mt 25:1-13), we have to watch, we have to be on guard, that we don’t lapse casually into sin. Night time features in both these teachings, and night time is naturally a period for rest and for sleep. At this time of year, the nights are long. Imagine being told to stay awake and be watchful throughout these long hours of darkness. That’s what we doorkeepers are being called to do spiritually … to be alert and self-controlled (1Thess 5:6), to stay awake and be spiritually alert in the darkness of this world. Why? Because the Lord is near!
There are two reasons why we must say awake. 1) No one knows the time of the return of the Lord. In His humanity, Jesus Himself did not, because He emptied Himself (Phil 2:7) of His divine omniscience. 2) So that we may have the strength to be responsible doorkeepers, avoiding evil, and [to] stand before the Son of Man (Lk 21:36).
The doorkeeper is tasked by ‘the man travelling abroad’ (God) with double responsibilities. His first responsibility is to guard the property against intruders and unwanted visitors. In the spirit of Advent, the warning here is about neither opening our doors nor leaving them ajar to sin because it harms our souls. Many people get so despondent about earthly trials and tribulations (Rev 6:9ff and Rev 13:16f) that they give in; they let [their] hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life (Lk 21:34). Going down that route adversely affects their will (Eph 5:18) and their readiness to welcome God, the Creator of our souls and of all that exists, when He finally comes. That route is to be avoided by Christians.
The doorkeeper’s second responsibility is to open the door promptly to the One who has the right to enter the property. God has the right to enter our hearts, but He will only enter if we invite Him in. If there’s anyone who is worthy to be welcomed into our hearts, it is God, because He made us and He is continually remaking us in His image. This penitential season offers us yet another opportunity to present ourselves to God in His mercy to be fashioned anew. God is the potter and we are the clay to be moulded and shaped by His hands. Isaiah uses this powerful image (v. 8) to drive home how God, our Father and Our Redeemer, is continually crafting our souls. We have to top up our hearts continually with prayer and worship in order to keep them filled to the brim with God.
As we set out upon our journey through Advent, let me encourage you to say to yourself, “I am the doorkeeper. I have been given the responsibility of being in charge: in charge, first and foremost, of my heart and of my soul, to nurture them and to guard them jealously for Christ’s sake; and secondly, in charge of my fellow servants – my fellow parishioners, friends and family – in the sense of taking an active interest in their welfare and of helping them to be faithful to God. Let us all thank God, as did St. Paul in the Second reading, for all the graces we receive through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and especially for the grace of keeping watch in prayer for His advent in our hearts and souls.
Amen. God bless you!