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Being Watchful and Alert

First Sunday of Advent
Cycle B

First Reading: Is 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
Second Reading: Cor 1:3-9
Gospel: Mk 13:33-37 

The Season of Advent is a time a time of anticipation, preparation, of new beginnings. Advent has a twofold character: as a season to prepare for Christmas when Christ's first coming to us is remembered; and as a season when that remembrance directs the mind and heart to await Christ's Second coming at the end of time. Advent is therefore a period for attentive and joyful expectation.

It is not a penitential season. The "Gloria" is omitted at Mass only to help us proclaim it with fuller joy and meaning on the feast of Christmas. The Sundays of the season are named First, Second, Third and Fourth Sundays of Advent; all are joyful; there is no longer one special Sunday that some of us may remember as "Gaudete Sunday" ("Rejoice") - every Sunday of Advent reminds us to be watchful, vigilant, patient - and yet filled with joy.

The Scripture readings for the four Sundays of Advent are rich with meaning and timeliness. Most of our first readings feature the prophetic visions of Isaiah, concerning the Messiah, the kingdom that He comes to establish, and the final glory that He calls us to share. In today's Gospel, we hear Mark's somber call to watchfulness and expectation for the coming of Christ - a kind of "hurry up and wait" call to attentiveness. On the Second and Third Sundays, Gospel passages dealing with the mission of John the Baptizer will be read. On the Fourth Sunday, we will share again the Gospel the wonderful account of Mary's call to be the mother of God, and her unconditional surrender to His will.

We will again use signs and symbols to express the spirit of this season: Light in the form of candles on the Advent wreath, and electric lights decorating our homes and lawns reflect our yearning for Jesus to be more perfectly the Light of the World. Evergreens, in the form of wreaths, garlands and trees, remind us that Jesus is the source of New Life and Never-Ending Vitality. Gift-giving is obviously motivated by the Christian's understanding of the meaning of the coming of the Word-made-flesh as God's gift of love, to be shared with those whom we love. We also reach out to the poor, so that they, too, might have reason to rejoice at Christmas.

Lest we are ever tempted to think otherwise, Advent reminds us that, while God has kissed the earth with his presence, much remains broken, unfulfilled and in darkness. We see plenty of evidence around us of the dark night.  If we have learned anything during this year of 2017, it is that we need not be told how late, how long and how dark our wait has turned out to be.  We need help.  Not just to protect us from the night so we can huddle together in mutual support and encouragement.  We need courage to keep the light of hope, love and service to neighbor aglow in us so we can face down the spirit of despair and continue to work in the night to be a beacon of hope to others.  

How long is the night?  Very long.  How dark is it?  Very dark.

Yet we are children of the Light.

As Christians, we can transcend the old way of doing things to bring the reality of Christ to the modern world... we can live in the present moment and be full of hope for the future. 

The four weeks of Advent give us a season of hope. Our Liturgies remind us vividly that God has come, as we relive the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God in the person of Jesus, son of Mary. We are reminded that God will come again, as we listen again in faith to the great prophesies of Scripture telling us again of the Realization of the Kingdom of God.

Most importantly, these days provide us with the reassurance that God comes now, in the people and events that shape our lives.

Understanding this, we will discover - even in this age - moments when the darkness withdraws and the true light shows itself; when the hungry are fed; wrongs righted; peace breaks out where war has raged; forgiveness allows a new beginning; death is faced down by serene faith; fractured families reconciled and even a scandal-shattered church shows signs of healing and re-commitment to being faithful servants with eyes fixed on present needs and with anticipation of the Lord's return.

Come, Lord Jesus - Be Our Light, Our Joy And Our Peace!



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