Today's selection from the Gospel of Mark is one for hard times. This was certainly true for the community for whom Mark wrote. This early Christian community faced many problems, notably the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 and persecutions by both religious and political authorities. The new faith had torn families apart and false prophets were predicting Christ's imminent return. Who could blame these early Christians for asking, "Where is Jesus now that we need him? Has he forgotten us? When is he going to return?"
Hearing today's Gospel would have strengthened Mark's community as they live through the hardest of times. Theirs are the same questions that we modern believers might ask when the foundations of our world are shaken by war and death, suffering and catastrophic illness, hunger, homelessness and poverty. As difficult as their days might have been the parable would have assured them that Jesus was going to return, and would put an end to their suffering. This same Gospel touches our hearts in the same way.
Being watchful and staying alert helps us to grow spiritually. We grow in sensitivity to the pain of others only when we begin to notice what grieves them. Staying awake and being attentive to the world around us can alert us to the already-arrived and still-coming of Christ.
Advent is a time of expectation, a time of preparation, a time of urgency. The Lord reminds us during this first week that it is also a time of warning. We must not allow ourselves to slip into the routine of ordinary life and to miss the opportunities that life presents to us. Advent is a time for us to recall lost opportunities, and of determining to take steps to miss fewer opportunities in the days ahead. It's a time for us to pay attention, to be watchful. We need to prepare ourselves to live effectively and lovingly with life's tensions.
We need to look carefully at the world around us, tend to its needs and sufferings, and become lights to brighten its darkness.
What shall we do this Advent? Despite the chaos of the world around us, we express our faith this Advent that God has not given up on us. We reach out for God and discover that God has been embracing us with love all along. The reading from Isaiah gives us reason to hope. There is a three letter word in the passage from Isaiah that is a small but very big word. Isaiah makes abundantly clear that God has every reason to give up on us. Then he speaks the word - "YET." (“Yet O lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.”)
“Yet” is the word we carry with us this Advent. Despite our limitations, narrowness and failures we can say this one-word prayer that expresses hope, “Yet.” It is a reminder to us that we are the people in whom God has invested much. For God has taken flesh among us. Jesus is our sign that God will not give up on us. He is God’s "Yet” - the restoring pause in the cycle of our downward spiral that allows God’s mercy to step in.
The Gospel has us keep watchful for Christ's future return. Still, we celebrate Advent as very much a season of the present moment. God is already in our midst and continues to stay with us. Advent points to the universal Christmas mystery. God's irrevocable choice for our world is as the place where salvation happens. And the presence of Jesus, the Word made flesh, is the one who will finally bring togehter the entire human family into a new community of justice and peace.