The First Sunday of Advent [B]

The First Sunday of Advent [B]
Isaiah 63:16-17,19; 64:2-7  +  1 Corinthians 1:3-9  +  Mark 13:33-37

Jesus said to His disciples: “Be watchful! Be alert!”

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references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church cited for this Sunday by the Vatican’s Homiletic Directory:

CCC 668-677, 769: the final tribulation and Christ’s return in glory
CCC 451, 671, 1130, 1403, 2817: “Come, Lord Jesus!”
CCC 35: God gives humanity grace to accept Revelation, welcome the Messiah
CCC 827, 1431, 2677, 2839: acknowledging that we are sinners

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The entire Gospel is filled with paradox, but the Gospel narratives of Advent and Christmas seem especially so.  These Gospel passages highlight two paradoxes:  first, the all-powerful God becoming a weak human; and second, God becoming man in order to destroy death by His dying.

The English writer G. K. Chesterton wrote a book about human history in general, and specifically about Jesus’ place at the center of human history.  It’s titled The Everlasting Man.  Chesterton writes at length about Bethlehem, and describes the paradox that Mary held in her arms and gazed upon the face of her Creator and Savior.  This is the paradox, Chesterton wrote, “that the hands that had made the sun and stars were too small to reach the huge heads of the cattle.”  The infinite God, in other words, is right under our noses.  Nonetheless, His Presence in our lives often remains a mystery.

As we enter the season of Advent, we need to recall that God’s ways are not our ways, and that God’s time is not our time.  To prepare for the sacred mysteries of the Christmas Season, consider three questions:  1) What do you do to prepare for Christmas?  2) What is it you are preparing to celebrate?  And 3) What should your life look like after you celebrate Christmas?  We can answer these questions by looking at three different persons waiting to celebrate Christmas.  These are certainly stereotypes, but they allow us to ask whether anything in their approaches to Advent is like our own.

The first person is a youngster waiting for Christmas morning.  What does the youngster do to prepare for Christmas?  Nothing, really.  The waiting is simply a time of anticipation.  All the youngster’s thoughts are consumed with the idea of Christmas morning.  Christmas is a moment, a flurry of activity that’s over in the twinkle of an eye.  Once the presents are open, Christmas is over.  The gifts themselves hold the youngster’s attention for very little time, and the celebration of Christmas brings no real change in the youngster.

The second person is a college student waiting for Christmas Break.  He’s working like mad to complete all the projects, papers and tests that are due before he can celebrate Christmas.  Christmas, for this student, is a time of rest.  Advent and Christmas are two opposites for this student:  work, and rest.  Christmas brings about a complete change in the student, but only for a few weeks, perhaps.  After that, it’s back to the books and the same old grind.

The third person for us to consider is a woman waiting for the birth of her child.  As she bears her child in the womb for nine months, her attention is not focused solely on the birth of the child, like the youngster who for a month can think of nothing but opening his presents on Christmas morning.  She will make sacrifices of her self in order to ensure the health and safety of her unborn child, but meanwhile she has other obligations to attend to.  She bears the child within herself as she tends to the needs of others.

She waits for the time of birth, although even the most experienced of doctors cannot assure her when exactly it will take place.  And when the expected time does come, it is neither the youngster’s brief moment of pleasure at opening presents, nor the student’s days of rest from labor.  For the expectant mother, the waited-for moment is itself a time of labor and of pain.  Yet despite the pain, it is also somehow a time of joy.

Somehow the waiting itself is a time of longing for labor and joy.  Is it any wonder that our Blessed Mother Mary plays such an important role in these seasons of Advent and Christmas?  Who was ever a better disciple of Jesus than Mary?  Who has ever been a better example of what it means to long for the coming of the Lord?  There are many scenes which we picture in our minds and which we hear proclaimed during this Advent of the Lord’s coming.  Joyful mysteries such as the Annunciation, the Visitation, and the Immaculate Conception help us prepare for the gift of Jesus.

The Agony in the Garden by Giuseppe Cesari (1568–1640)