December 3, 2017 — First Sunday of Advent
Today, the First Sunday of Advent, marks not just the beginning of our preparation for Christmas, but also the beginning a new liturgical Church year for us as Catholics. Advent extends over the next four Sundays, literally culminating on Christmas Eve this year. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word Adventus, which means “coming.” Like Lent this is a preparatory season, one that has us looking forward and waiting for something greater.
We are aware that the One Who is coming is Christ, but that means more than just Christ’s birth at Christmas. It also means the coming of Christ into our lives through grace and the sacraments of Holy Communion and reconciliation. However, its ultimate meaning has to do with preparing for Christ’s second coming. In that regard in past few weeks our readings from Holy Scripture have very much centered on being prepared for that final coming. Today’s readings continue that theme.
We hear readings from Isaiah often at this time of year because that prophet foretold in such accurate detail the coming of the Messiah, of Christ. In addition, there is a certain poetry to the way Isaiah writes. The closing of our First Reading is “Yet, O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.” What an eloquent statement about Who God is, and who we are as well! However, even if we understand that we are God’s creation, as is everything, for God to truly form us we must be open to Him and to His direction and guidance.
Advent is a time for us to develop our relationship with God so we are the “work of His hands.” There is a clear explanation in this reading that one of the great obstacles to God being an intimate part of our lives is our sinfulness. This is a time when it is important to address that obstacle, to reconcile with God, and with many others in our lives perhaps, so that we can indeed be prepared and fulfill God’s wishes for us.
St. Paul opens today’s Second Reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians by greeting them with “Brothers and sisters: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” St. Paul uses the phrase “grace to you and peace” five other times in his letters in the New Testament. Grace is always first and peace second, because grace is the source of peace. Without grace there can be no peace. Referring to “the Lord Jesus Christ” is also quite typical of Paul’s perspective. In fact, he uses that term almost twenty times in this letter alone.
Immediately after his greeting Paul writes, “I give thanks to my God always on your account…” This is a time of year when we need to focus on our blessings and approach God with the same sense of gratitude Paul always displays. Gratitude, as we know, is at the heart of a stewardship way of life, a Christian way of life. This is a time of year when we need to express that gratitude with a renewed sense of spirituality and a commitment to making changes in our lives that really do prepare us for the coming of Christ.
It is well to understand that the Corinthian church had many problems, and Paul was well aware of that. Nevertheless, Paul is confident that there are solutions to all of these. Why? Because “God is faithful.” Paul has a trust in God and he urges the Corinthians to have that same trust. This Advent time of year is a time when we need to place our trust in the Lord as well.
The Gospel Reading from St. Mark opens with “Be watchful! Be alert!” This is the same message we have heard over and over in recent weeks. We do not know, cannot know, when Jesus is coming or when our own lives will end. There are two ways to look at that: the cynical way is “I don’t know so it really does not matter.” This Advent season is a time when we should come to grips with the reality that it does matter. As Jesus reminds us, we need to be alert, eager, and ready for His coming. But we tend to put that preparedness off, which is the human way we often respond. Now is the time for each of us to commit ourselves to getting prepared by embracing the many opportunities afforded us during Advent and then Christmas.
The Lord says “It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work.” Jesus is the “man traveling” and we are His “servants.” He has left us with His house (the Church entrusted to each of us); His authority (authority always involves responsibility); and our own work (we are not responsible for someone else’s work, but we certainly are for our own). Advent is a time to pray and to respond to what Christ has left us — our Church, our responsibilities, and our own individual callings.