Is 63:16-17, 64:1, 3-8 ; I Cor 1:3-9 ; S. Mark 13:33-37
“Be on your guard, stay awake … What I say to you I say to all: stay awake!”. Strong words from our Lord in today’s Gospel reading.
I’m sure that none of us particularly enjoys waiting. Not yet being able to drive, I find that I do an awful lot of waiting - waiting for buses and waiting for trains, and I’m sure it’s the same for others here too.
Waiting features heavily in our Gospel today, and I would say that waiting also features heavily at this time of year - today we begin the season of Advent - a season of waiting.
In the Gospel, our Lord is telling people to stay awake and wait for the return of a house owner. Our Lord is telling us to wait, to be watchful and to be alert, and to stay awake; He is telling us to be ready in anticipation for something which is coming.
It strikes me that often when we’re waiting for something to come, how ever small or trivial a thing it is - perhaps waiting for something we’ve ordered or standing on the street waiting for a bus or a train - sometimes when we’re waiting we can become slightly agitated or impatient, wanting it to come as soon as possible, and imagining what it will be like when it’s here.
However, sometimes the time of waiting can actually be something of a blessing; if you’re standing at a bus stop or a train station it can give us a little time alone to be in our own thoughts, to reflect as we look at the world around us. But inevitably we often still end up feeling impatient.
At this time of year many of us are naturally impatient - we’re wanting Christmas to arrive, and often the world around us can behave as if it’s Christmas already, but to get to Christmas, we have to first of all pass through this season of Advent; this season of waiting and watching and preparation.
This thing we wait for is of course Christ - the coming of the Christ Child into the world, the coming of God into the midst of the messiness of humanity. It’s at Advent that we anticipate the coming of Christ in the actual flesh at Bethlehem, but also the daily coming of Christ in our hearts, and the coming of Christ in glory at the end of time.
As we watch and wait, our Lord calls us to be alert and to be prepared, to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ. But what does it mean for us to be prepared?
I don’t think that it necessarily means that we need to make ourselves busy (although of course this can be a busy time whether we like it or not) - but again, like perhaps waiting at a bus stop, this time of Advent can give us a golden opportunity to stand back and to reflect, a way of preparing ourselves for what is to come. When we’re waiting for something often we want to somehow be busy and fill up the space - going on our phone, or looking at the internet, or reading - we can feel like we should be doing something - we often want to be doing something - so this calling to wait can sometimes perhaps seem a bit difficult and disconcerting - almost a forced inactivity!
I would suggest that in our spiritual lives as Christians sometimes being prepared can in fact come through this taking a step back. When we retreat into this space we can start to become more aware of God, and more aware of ourselves. To begin to prepare ourselves for the awesomeness of what we celebrate at Christmas - that the God who saves us is precisely the God who is with us - we’re called to look at ourselves, to examine ourselves, striving as best we can to try to get rid of the baggage which holds us down and holds us back - we are to shed those things which are unworthy, and repair what is broken - our Lord knows our sinful nature and our constant failings - and I’d say that we are to ask God for the deep desire to welcome the salvation which is offered to us in Christ - although perhaps we will never in our own limited minds be able to truly grasp the sheer significance of God Himself coming into our broken world.
In our first reading the prophet Isaiah says that the people of Israel sinned, he says that they became unclean and like dirty clothing, and that they had withered like a leaf - they had forsaken God for worldly ambitions. But the prophet Isaiah also promises a Messiah who will reconcile people - both you and me - with the Lord - something truly to be celebrated.
It’s in Advent we are also called to experience this same road, this same journey, from distance from God towards deliverance through the person of Christ. Advent is a reminder to us that we are all in need of preparation, vigilance, and humbleness; we remember that each of us is in need of the One whose coming we celebrate, and whose mercy we are offered in abundance.
We know how the Christmas story ends, we know what is coming into the world at Christmas time - we know about the salvation which comes through Christ - however, this shouldn’t necessarily change our sense of anticipation and our calling to watch and wait and be alert, to prepare ourselves spiritually for the coming of Christ. Although waiting can be difficult, our waiting for this coming of our Lord during Advent is not some kind of solitary experience which we endure alone and unsupported. Whilst we wait for our Lord we also know that He continues to make Himself present to us in so many ways, especially here, today, on the altar, in the Mass.
In our second reading, from St Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, Paul reminds the church members that they have all received many gifts from God which will support and uphold them until the Lord comes. Our Lord does not leave us alone as we wait - in Advent we are aware that we wait, but we are also aware that we are not alone in our waiting, God is still present, with us and for us. But we are still called to be vigilant in our watching and waiting; we know that salvation comes, but we aren’t told when; as our Lord tells us, we do not know when the master of the household will return. Thus, we are called to try (with our Lord’s help) to walk in the way of the Lord at all times of our lives.
We must anticipate and prepare for our Lord’s coming. And so in this season of Advent, we’re called to patiently wait for God in hope, whilst examining ourselves as we prepare to meet Him. Jesus came, Jesus comes, and Jesus is coming again.
Our God is not one who has abandoned us, God is with us; and it’s at Advent that we wait in patient hope for God to fulfil His will in His own way, in His own time.
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