1st Sunday of Advent Year B

Be watchful! You do not know when the Lord of the house is coming.

Isaiah 63:1-9[Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down!]

 Psalm 79:1-7, 17-19[Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be save.]

 1 Corinthians 1:3-9[We wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.] 

Mark 13:33-37 [Be watchful! You do not know when the Lord of the house is coming.]

Last year our rubrics (the quotation in red) for the reflections were drawn from the Entrance Antiphon. This year we shall use the response to the Responsorial Psalm. The collect applies to the celebrations of years A, B and C. Hence, it still stands that on this day, the Church assembled at prayer asks the Almighty God to grant His faithful, the resolve to run forth to meet His Christ with  righteous deeds at His coming, so that, gathered at His right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom. We must immediately see that this prayer, rectifies the old translation and makes a strong link between the Liturgy of Christ the King which concluded the Liturgical Year A and the Liturgy of today which begins year B.

What did the old translation say?  It asked the same God who is all-powerful to increase our strength of will for doing good that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming and call us to His side in the Kingdom of Heaven. Though there is some dynamic equivalence in both prayers, the idea of waiting which characterizes Advent is emphasized only partially, namely, His coming in the flesh. The mention of His calling us to His side in the Kingdom by the old prayer misses the setting of the second coming characterized by the gathering, judgment of all, the separation of the sheep from the goats, the rewarding of those at the right hand.

It becomes clear that the end of a Liturgical year does not mean two unconnected years, but, just as the Bible and Liturgy are a continuum, so too are the Liturgical years. The Gospel of last Sunday talked about the gathering of the sheep on the right hand. There, they are praised and given the Kingdom. This is the eschatological dimension of the Christ event. It is what will happen during the second coming.

But before that occurs, there is the present waiting for the coming Christ. To wait for Him now, the prayer gives us directives, we need a resolve to run forth and this running must be accompanied by deeds of righteousness. Since it is a call, the presumption is that not all are set for the encounter. It needs that the Lord converts us, makes us turn completely towards Him, a conversion that will now enable us to behold His face which he now makes resplendent, a face which when we behold, instead of dying, we are rather saved. How does the Liturgy of the word for year B maintain these ‘two-waitings’ which the opening prayer celebrates: that is, the waiting for Christ to come in the flesh and the waiting for Christ to come again in glory to judge the living and the dead?

The first reading is taken from the section of Isaiah, supposedly written by his disciples, which talks of the return of the first exiles from the Babylonian captivity. The section describes a pilgrimage of God’s people and the history of a New Jerusalem, centre of the world. There has been a distortion of the balance that characterized the relationship between God and these people. This balance needs to be restored.  The text explores the merciful nature of God, who is recalled as having from the beginning revealed Himself as merciful: Our Redeemer is your ancient name. The people identify God as Father, with an emphatic ‘You, Yourself’ that bears already seeds of the theme of our adoption as children of God through the coming of Christ.

The text raises images of a people who had been abandoned and left to stray away; a hard hearted people, infidels now daring to face a Faithful God. At this point, the cry, the prayer: Come back, return, for the sake of your servants, the tribe of your inheritance, sing of the hope the people of God have. We begin to feel the spirit of expectancy, as the idea of advent begins to dawn on the people. The people now hope that God will tear the heavens open and come down, a powerful image of advent which will eventually lead to the wedding between heaven and earth, the heavens dropping down dew and the earth opening up, for the Saviour to spring forth. Such an event will be a prelude to the disappearance, the melting away of the mountains: our pride, our swelling up that acts as an obstacle on the path that the Lord has mapped out for us.

Isaiah is having his eyes, therefore on the Divine plan. He is invoking the Divine presence in a world that is plunged in infidelity. When God is present among those who trust Him, the results are obvious, Isaiah notes: a unique way of acting manifested by God, the guidance of those who act with integrity, a God who frowns at and even disappears or rather hides his face from our waywardness, our unfaithfulness, our sinfulness, our rebellion, our uncleanness, our filth. The absence of the resplendent face of God has had disastrous consequences upon Israel. They have withered like leaves. The absence of God in our lives causes our sins like wind to blow us about. We lose our stability.

The repentant Israel, like the prodigal son ready to return to his father, begins by fathoming who this father is. Like this son, we realize we cannot remain in sin in this manner and for this long. Don’t we have a Father? Like Israel such situations in our own lives must lead us too to imagine God as the potter and we, the clay, the work of His hands. In this light, His coming is most cherished. It will be the coming of one who has the power to shatter our hopeless past and bring us back, molding us into a new people, a New Jerusalem.  Here we are therefore, in a state of waiting, we long to see the Father whom we are now re-discovering, whom we had lost during our period of sin and exile. This hope we have, necessarily takes into consideration our resolve to set aside our infidelity and meet the faithful God in a spirit of fidelity: a God who has a plan; a God we desire to see present in our midst – Immanuel.

The Psalm sings of the advantages of having God in our midst. He will be approachable in prayer. We would be able to say to Him: Lord, make us turn to you, or rather, Lord, convert us; let your face shine on us, and we shall be saved. This Psalm is a supplication similar to the text of Isaiah. Here too, conscious of our waywardness, we join the Psalmist in calling on the Lord – here identified as Shepherd of Israel, seated on a Cherubim Throne, full of might and power, with Redeeming authority about Him – to come. This Liturgical and biblical text asks God to listen to our supplications, to hear us, to come with this great might of His, and to be our Redeemer, to turn again, to look down from heaven, to visit the vine His own right hand did plant, to protect us, to have His hands on His elect, and in order that we may never forsake Him again, we implore Him to give us life, a life during which He will empower us to call upon His name. It is important that the Lord comes. We need to see His face shinning on us. We need to be saved by Him.

In the Second Reading, Paul prays for the Christians of Corinth and for us too, who have received graces, good teachers, preachers, witnesses, and whose response has so far indicated the strength of our faith. It is Paul’s hope that as we wait for our Lord Jesus to be revealed we should entertain ourselves with the gifts of the Spirit. This demands steadiness, a blamelessness that is enduring, taking us through to the last day, the Day of the Lord, the Day of His Parousia. The reading then connects us to the theme of the Fatherhood of God and our adopted sonship thanks to Christ. As sons, our waiting for the Father must be a journey of sanctity, for, He, the Lord is Holy.

The Gospel text of today is a brief admonition from Mark. While the First Reading talked more about awaiting the coming of God in the flesh, the Gospel introduces the theme of waiting in the light of the second coming, the coming at the end of time. It reminds us of the disposition we need to put on: watchfulness, vigilance, attentiveness, all these to be done in a spirit of prayer because of the nature of the coming. The time is uncertain. The Gospel brings back the image of a Master who is absent but who will return. This image is set in the context of the test we, servants of the Lord, the people He has chosen, are going to be subjected to. The watchful doorkeeper will experience the Master’s return. As people of God, the catchword is watchfulness. The practical implications of this right disposition of waiting for the Lord remain very debatable and vary according to people’s spiritual visions and priorities. While some think it is best at old age regardless of a reckless youthfulness, others believe some form of procrastination may not be a bad idea, since there will be signs from above. For us, genuine followers of Christ, Advent must make our period of waiting a time of vigilance. By vigilance, it does not necessarily mean moving from one prayer session to another, from one “man of God” – as they are now being referred to – to another, or keeping unending night vigils of prayer at the expense of the natural needs of the human body – the necessity to rest. Being vigilant implies being at the right place at the right time. It means doing the right thing at the right time. Eating when I am supposed to eat; praying when I am supposed to pray; laughing when I am supposed to laugh, mourning when it is mourning time. This must accompany us through, all the days of our lives. The need to stay awake, to keep away from sin is not incumbent upon the priests only. Certainly they must take the lead for John will expect the lawyers and Pharisees to be exemplary. But Marana-tha (Come, O Lord) is to be sung by all, for all of us wait that Hour, the Hour of the Son of Man.

During this advent, let us ask the Lord to keep us ready, prepared for His coming. It must be a resolution to begin anew. It must be a time of conversion as a movement towards embracing the joy of having Christ in us, among us and for us now and until the end of time.