1st Sunday of Advent Year B. December 3, 2023

 

1st Sunday of Advent Year B. December 3, 2023

Isaiah 63: 16b-17; 19b; 64: 2-7; 1Corinthians 1: 3-9; Mark 13: 33-37

 

Theme: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.”

Happy New Year to all! Last Sunday, the solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe marked the end of the Liturgical Year A. So, today we start a new liturgical year B with this first Sunday of Advent. From its Latin origin Adventus, the word “Advent”, means “coming.” The liturgy of this four week-season of Advent prepares us, not only for the coming of Jesus into history over 2000 years ago whose anniversary we celebrate on Christmas, but it also prepares us for Jesus’ second coming in glory at the end of time as well as for the coming of Jesus in our daily lives. All these three comings of Jesus (at the end of the time, on Christmas, and every day) require good preparation.  A good celebration of Christmas will depend on how we prepare ourselves during this Advent. The celebration in heaven will be certain if we prepare ourselves seriously for the return of Jesus at the end of time. And Jesus’s real presence amid the happenings of our daily lives depends on how we prepare ourselves every day to welcome him. Although Christmas gives us the image of a holiday with decorations and shopping, let us keep in mind that Advent is a special time of repentance. The purple color of the Advent liturgy reminds us of this repentance. The four candles of the Advent Wreath teach us that our repentance and waiting for Jesus’ coming should be with hope (first Sunday), peace (second Sunday), joy (third Sunday), and love (fourth Sunday). The Gospel of this first Sunday focuses on Jesus’ second coming and invites us to stay watchful and alert as we do not know when the time will come. In the second and third Sunday’s Gospels, we will hear John the Baptist who will call us to repentance as he prepares the way for the coming of Jesus. The story of how the birth of Jesus came about that we will hear in the last Sunday’s Gospel will prepare us for the celebration of his birth on Christmas. 

To better understand our Gospel story, we need to situate it in its context. It is the conclusion part of the big section that starts in chapter 13:1. Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple. (vv. 1-2). Note that this is the temple whose construction began under Herod the Great ca. 20 B.C. and was completed only some seven years before it was destroyed by fire in A.D. 70 by the Roman power. This prediction of the temple's destruction provoked questions from the disciples of Jesus. In secret, they asked him about the time and sign when all the things that he said were about to come to an end (vv. 3-4). Jesus’ response is an eschatological discourse prior to his imminent death. This discourse contained instruction and consolation in which Jesus exhorted the disciples and the Church to faith and obedience through the trials that would confront them (vv. 5-13). The presence of the desolating abomination by the Roman power who would profane the temple would be the sign (v. 14). People would flee rather than defend their city. False messiahs and prophets would arise to mislead people. Jesus called them to be watchful (vv. 14-26). It would be after the tribulation that the Son of Man would come in the clouds with great power and glory for the last judgment (vv. 24-27). Jesus gave them the example of the fig tree to learn from. When its branch becomes tender, and sprouts leaves, they know that summer is near. In the same way, when they see those things happening, they would know that his second coming is near (vv. 28-31). Jesus clarified that no one knows the day or the hour, not even the angels or himself, but only God the Father (v. 32). Our passage starts here. Jesus calls his listeners and all people to constant vigilance (vv. 33-37).

In our short Gospel passage that we heard, the word “watch” or “watchful” repeats four times. This indicates that the key message of the evangelist Mark to his listeners including all of us today is to be watchful because we do not know when the time of the second coming of Jesus will come. (Mark 13: 33). Jesus compares the “watch” to the work of a gatekeeper who must remain vigilant at the door for his master’s return. But what is the attitude of this gatekeeper, and what is the nature of his watch? Is it that of fear of what his master might find when he comes home? Or is it that of the great expectations, in which the gatekeeper is focused on a grand and celebratory reunion? Our attitude during this Advent season should not be the former but the latter.

As we wait for the three comings of Jesus, we must not be sad or anxious. We must rather keep the attitude of joy because the one who is coming is our Lord. His coming is good news for us. He comes to restore our relationship with God. He comes every day to us to make our lives better than before. He comes to bring us hope, love, joy, peace, and the blessing we need. He comes to be our companion when we feel alone. He comes to dry our tears and give us support when we cry. He comes to help us carry our crosses. Jesus comes to be part of our lives and families, so let us prepare a room for him in our hearts and our homes.

To prepare ourselves for the coming of our Lord entails repentance and reconciliation with God and with one another. In our first reading, Prophet Isaiah prays to God for the reconciliation of his people with him. The context is that the Israelites experience frustration since they have returned from exile in Babylon. The reconstruction of their city has not worked as they had intended. They attribute this failure to their own sins. Now in our first reading, Isaiah implores God to come to their aid by forgiving their sins. This is what the Church calls each of us to do during this Advent season. We need to confess all our sins so that Jesus might be born in our clean and very well-prepared hearts.  

Saint Paul, in our second reading, tells us that while we are waiting for the return of our Lord, God, through Jesus Christ, has bestowed on us his grace of “all discourse,” “all knowledge,”, and “every spiritual gift”. Here Saint Paul refers to the body as a whole, the Church; not every individual has every spiritual gift, but the entire body, the Church, is “not lacking in any spiritual gift”. (v.7). This means that we receive this gift of the power of the Holy Spirit to live a life of holiness through the sacraments of the Church, especially the Eucharist (Mass) and confession. This second reading encourages us to attend Masses, especially on Sundays, and use the sacrament of Confession in order to always be equipped to wage a spiritual battle and stay spiritually watchful for the heavenly kingdom.

The way we are happy and well-prepared to welcome a newborn child into our families is the same and even more we must be delighted and well-prepared during these four weeks of Advent because someone of the most important, Jesus, is coming to visit us. Jesus wants to spend time with us and longs for us to spend time with him too. Let us make this Christmas the best Christmas we have ever had by making Jesus feel at home in our hearts, families, neighborhoods, and Church. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

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