Gospel Reflection for Nov. 29, 2020: First Sunday of Advent

As we begin the Season of Advent and enter in our journey through Mark’s Gospel this coming liturgical year, we are hit immediately with the need for “watchfulness” and “to be alert.” Given the circumstances under which we live at the moment, these two challenges are taking on even more significant meanings.

Jesus is, of course, reminding us of the immanence of the coming of the Kingdom. While we know that the Kingdom will be made manifest at the end of history, we all also have our own eschatological moment – the hour of death – when we are called to give accounting to the Lord.

But watchfulness and alertness are essential Christian values as we pay attention to the signs of the times in which we live. Jesus often challenges his listeners to pay attention to what is going on around them. The Lord of history continually makes his will known through historical events and moments. The ancient Israelites knew this, even if they often rejected it. The disciples knew it. The early Church also knew it. We have lost a sense of this reading the signs of the times. For many of us we have given this over to superstition. We continue to chase after astrologers, seers, tarot readers and Ouija Boards, much as did the men and women of ancient and medieval times did to discern what is going to happen. We know that listening to these avenues is often a portal to darker and evil things, and fraught with danger. Yet, our desire to know the future is alluring.

What we often fail to recognize is how clearly the Lord speaks his will to us. He comes to us continually as we read his Word in Sacred Scripture, heed the teaching on the Church, and see the events of our lives and our world through the lens of faith. There are also the more subtle and sublime ways that the Lord speaks to us. It can be a word, nod, smile or gesture from a stranger, relative or a close friend. We can find the Lord speaking to us in the midst of a difficult diagnosis, the loss of a loved one or the birth of a child. The Lord continually urges us on to a deeper relationship with him, to a renewed sense of hope and peace.

This call to watchfulness and being alert has also taken on a new dimension in our days. The worsening of the pandemic and the need to follow the ever-tightening and stricter protocols of mask-wearing, social distancing and other limitations have made us more keenly aware of our own “space” and of our health and security. The political turmoil in our country has made us more attentive to the important social, economic and human rights issues which our country faces and needs to address.

Our challenge is always to seek where God is in all of this. We are called to discern more carefully how we respond in faith to the crises of the present for each crisis is itself an opportunity and occasion to see in the signs of the times the depth of God’s will leading us to his Kingdom.

Advent is a time for us to refocus and to recharge our relationship with the Lord. More than a sentimental encounter, the coming of the Nativity of the Lord poses challenges for each of us to reflect on our own relationship with God. We are reminded through the lighting of the candles that the Lord is the light that shines through the darkness illuminating our hearts, minds and souls. The circle of the wreath itself points us to the eternality of the Lord and the plan of salvation history.

We know that the Lord who created us and intends us for salvation provides us with all of the grace, wisdom, insight and ability to know him and his will for our lives. It is through careful prayer, study, reflection and reception of the Sacraments, especially of Confession, that we can come to hear and then discern his call.

As we embark on this Advent journey, let us be ever-mindful of our need to be alert and watchful, for it is the only way in which we can truly live as a people of hope.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.