1st Sunday of Advent Year B – 14
Is.63:16b-17, 19b, 64:2-7; I Cor.1:3-9; Mk.13:33-37
Years ago, when 20th Century Fox advertised in the New York papers to fill a vacancy in its sales force, one applicant replied: “I am at present selling furniture at the address below. You may judge my ability as a salesman if you will stop into see me at anytime, pretending that you are interested in buying furniture. When you come in, you can identify me by my red hair.
And I should have no way of identifying you. Such salesmanship as I exhibit during your visit, therefore, will be no more than my usual workday approach and not a special effort to impress a prospective employer.” From among more than 1500applicants, this guy got the job. Jesus wants us to be ready like that man. We don’t know when He’s coming back, so we should be prepared all the time.
The central theme of today’s readings is Jesus’ warning to us to be alert, watchful and prepared because Christ’s Second Coming, coinciding with the end of the world, can occur at any time. The vigilant service prepares us for the coming of Christ as our savior during Christmas and as our judge and Lord at the end of the world.
The reason why the liturgical year ends and begins with the same theme is clear: if we have already embraced Jesus in his first coming, we will have no fear of his second coming. Advent is the season of special preparation for and expectation of the coming of Christ. It encourages us to examine our lives, to reflect on our need for God to enter our lives and to prepare earnestly for, and eagerly await the coming of Christ.
In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah prays for God’s active presence so that the Jewish community, returned from Babylonian exile, may remain faithful to their God. In the second reading, St. Paul prays for the reconversion of Christians in Corinth who have misused their gifts and charisms and remain well-prepared for Christ’s Second Coming.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus uses the short parable of the servants and gate-keeper of an absentee master who could return at any time. Jesus instructs his followers to be alert and watchful while doing their Christian duties with sincerity. The gate-keeper and the house hold servants are expected to be ever-vigilant because their master is sure to return. The time of his return is uncertain, but the reward or punishment is sure and certain.
Jesus summarizes the complexities of Christian living in two imperatives: “Take heed!” (Be on guard) and “Watch!” (Be alert, stay awake, and don’t grow careless).Our life on earth is to be one of productive service uninfluenced by a supervisor’s presence or seeming absence. Today’s Gospel is the conclusion of a speech found in Mark13, in which Jesus predicts his Second Coming (Parousia), at the end of time or at the end of the world.
Ten years after Paul’s death, Mark reminded his community in Rome of Jesus’ words, “Be constantly on the watch! Stay awake! You do not know when the appointed time will come.” The evangelist knew that if an expected event didn’t happen as quickly as expected, people would stop doing the things they ought to do.
Hence, Mark reminded them of Jesus’ parable about the gate-keeper in the house of a traveling master. When Paul and Mark spoke about the things to come, it was only to remind their readers that their present behavior wasn’t measuring up to what Christ’s second coming demanded.
People, in general, used to have a paranoid fear about the end of the world. They expected it in A.D. 204, 999and 2000. The title of a best-seller published in 1988 was 101 Reasons Why Christ Returns in 1988.
A very popular film released in 1999 about Christ’s Second Coming was Omega Code, and another film released in 2005 was Left Behind. Excessive fear of the tribulations accompanying the end of the world led the followers of a religious cult led by Jim Jones (in 1978), and followers of another cult called Heaven’s Gate (in1997), to commit mass suicide.
But Jesus, in today’s Gospel, gives us the assurance that we need not be afraid of the end of the world, Christ’s Second Coming and the Last Judgment if we remain alert and prepared. Jesus illustrates the need for alertness and readiness by comparing the situation of his followers to that of a gate-keeper in a house when the owner was out of the country.
Since the gate-keeper did not know when the owner of the house would return, “in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning,” he must always be ready if he did not want the owner to find him asleep. In the same way, there is no reason for Christ’s followers to be fearful, provided we are ready everyday for Jesus’ return.
If we are awake and ready, the coming of the Son of Man is an event
to be greeted with joy. Thus our whole life should be a preparation to meet the master. Like the parents who trust their teenagers to look after the house while they are away, or like the teacher who leaves the class room after giving her students plenty of work to do, Jesus trusts us to carry out his work until he returns.
There is the work of witnessing to Jesus in our daily lives. There is the work to be done in our families, our schools, our local churches and our community. There is the work of caring for those who are hurting and have needs.
There is the work of guiding and leading others, pointing people to the comforting message of the Gospel. There is the work of living “lives holy and dedicated to God,” “doing our best to be pure and faultless in God’s sight and to be at peace with him”
This passage reminds us also that we should not be so foolish as to forget God and become immersed in worldly matters. Using Christ’s parable, the Church reminds us of the alertness and preparation needed for the four-fold coming of Jesus into our lives, namely:
At the celebration of His Incarnation during this Christmas season, in His active presence in our daily lives, at the moment of our death, and in his final coming in glory at the end of the world.
Every morning when we get up, let us pray, “Lord, show me someone today with whom I may share your love, mercy and forgiveness.” Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Whatever you do in your family, for your children, for your husband, for your wife, you do for Jesus.”
Every night when we go to bed, let us ask ourselves, “Where have I found Christ today?” The answer will be God’s Advent gift to us that day. By being alert and watchful we will receive an extra gift: Christ himself. Let us remember the saying of St. Thomas Aquinas:”Without God, I can’t. Without me, He won’t.”
We are so future-oriented that we often forget the present entirely. We spend too much time trying to protect ourselves against future misfortunes. We save for a rainy day, to get married, to buy a home, to send the children to college, to retire in comfort and to protect ourselves against future misfortunes.
But we need to be more spiritually wakeful and prepare for our eternal life because we can die any day, and that is the end of the world for us. Let this Advent season be the time of such a preparation for us.