The secular world rushes to Christmas, a race that begins in stores even before Halloween! The Season of Advent attempts to “put the breaks on,” so to speak, to allow people of faith to slow down in the midst of all “the glitter and the glow” to reflect upon the meaning of this time of year.
The first Sunday of Advent begins a new year on the Church’s calendar, introducing a new cycle of Sunday readings --- year B --- as the next four weeks unfold. This year, the fourth Sunday of Advent occurs on December 24, with Christmas Eve beginning later on that same day.
Today’s scripture readings give us focus, a lens through which to view the days and weeks that follow.
We often hear from the prophet Isaiah throughout the Church year, but his message in the first reading takes on a bit more urgency for Advent as he reminds us that God will deliver those who call upon him. Aware of our past misdeeds and transgressions, God is quick to forgive as he did the people of ancient Israel who wandered from his path and who hardened their hearts. Advent, indeed, is a time to renew the direction of our lives, to embrace God’s ways again, to reshape ourselves “like clay in the hands of the potter.”
We cry out, responding with the Psalmist, “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.”
St. Paul addresses the Corinthians in the second reading, inviting them to keep strong and firm “to the end,” awaiting the “revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Encouraging words for us in this holy season. During Advent, we not only anticipate the commemoration of the birth of the Messiah at Christmas, but we deepen our awareness that the Lord Jesus Christ will come again.
St. Paul’s words are a good spiritual preparation for today’s Gospel message from St. Mark:
Be watchful! Be alert! Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”
Those cautionary words are not intended to give rise to fear but, rather, to inspire “readiness” as we live our daily lives in anticipation of Christ’s return. Advent leads to a celebration of his entering into our humanity, the “Word made flesh,” to guide and direct us toward our eternal destiny in the “house of the Father.” In the meantime, waiting, watching, preparing are themes that both lead and follow us through the Advent season.
Christ has already come in history, so sing a carol, light the tree, enjoy the love that fills our homes because of his Incarnation. Christ continues to come in mystery in our daily lives so recognize his presence in prayer, especially the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance, in his evangelizing Word, in family life and in the people we encounter, especially the poor and needy. Show Christ’s love in good works and generous acts of charity. Christ will come again in majesty, so “watch,” anticipate his return with hearts and minds and souls made ready by the transformation of the way we live each day.
The season of Advent, indeed, enables us to “put the breaks on,” to slow down and capture the moment by reflecting upon its meaning and message. It begins today, the first Sunday of Advent. When Christmas comes in four weeks, let’s make ourselves a worthy gift to the One who gives himself to us!