[Reflection on The Word] Homily for the First Sunday of Advent, Year B
Isaiah 63:16-17, 64:1, 3-8/Psalm 80/ 1 Corinthians 1:3-9/ Mark 13:33-37
Theme: Take heed, Watch and Pray
“To you, my God, I lift up my soul, I trust in you; let me never come to shame. Do not let my enemies laugh at me. No one who waits for you is ever put to shame” is our entrance antiphon for this first Sunday of Advent. It is a song of total abandonment of the Psalmist to God.
The Season of Advent which is the first season of catechesis is divided basically into two: The readings for the first Sunday of Advent to 16th December recall the promise of a Messiah and at the same time focuses on the second coming of the Messiah as Judge. The readings from 17th to 24th December focus on the first coming of the Messiah, the fulfillment of the promise of this Messiah and the closest events before the coming of the Messiah (The Nativity).
In the first reading, the people of Israel were taking stock of their lives. This section of the book of the Prophet Isaiah is called Third Isaiah and it is called the Book of Restoration presupposing that the Israelites have just returned from exile. The prophet recounts the merciful deeds of God for his people in spite of their unfaithfulness to Yahweh.
What we read today is a prayer of penitence from the remnant who have returned from exile. Having recounted their evil deeds, they reminded God that “For you are our father, though Abraham does not know us and Israel does not acknowledge us, you O Lord are our Father, our Redeemer, from of old is your name” ( Isaiah 63:16).
The usual habit of man when he sins is to blame others. So the remnants complained, “But you were angry and we sinned; because you hid yourself, we transgressed” (Isaiah 63:5). Adam and Eve did the same. But in this inaction lies our frailties; our nothingness to come out of our sinful situation by our own strength.
Our blame game must have as its basis an acknowledgment of the fact that God is all in all. This is the reason why Christ’s second coming is meaningful to us. This is because we cannot save ourselves from our wretchedness even though we brought it upon ourselves. Therefore, the prophets acknowledge “We have all become like one who is unclean and all our righteous deeds are like filthy cloth…Yet you O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay and you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” ( Isaiah 64:6,8).
As we await the second coming of Christ and like the Israelites in the first reading, we are reminded that it is a time of stock taking. We must know that “God’s faithfulness is a burglar and a shield” (Psalm 91:4b). No situation is hopeless at all. If God will allow the remnants to return in spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness, then this season is indeed a joyful season; a season of hope.
In the Gospel reading, we are reminded about Christ’s second coming. Like the remnant of the people of Israel who were longing for God’s restoration, we are confronted with the reality of this restoration namely persecution and trials. But in this lies our victory.
To “watch” means to be alert, to stay at one’s best; to stay awake. The unsaved world scoffs at us because we continue to cling to what for them is an unrealistic “blessed hope” but he will return as he promised (cf 2Peter 3). That is why faith must accompany the action of staying awake. If faith is not at the very heart of what we are awaiting, then we are not different from our scoffers; we are the most pitiable of all people. Our task is to be faithful and to be busy, not to speculate about the hidden details of prophecy.
Watchfulness has nothing to do with going to heaven. It is purely a matter of pleasing Jesus, hearing his loving commendation and receiving His reward (cf Matthew 25:14-30). There is no suggestion here that when he returns, Jesus will take only the faithful to heaven and leave the others on earth to suffer the tribulation. We are his family and just as he promised us, he is preparing a home for us all, even the least unworthy (cf John 14:1-6). We go to heaven because of his grace, not because of our faithfulness or good works (cf Ephesians 2:8-10).
During the time the Gospel of Mark was written Christians were facing persecution in Rome and all of the Roman Empire. Thus, St. Mark wrote to them to comfort, strengthen and encourage them. If God is able to help his people witness such fierce persecutions, then He will surely give us the grace to do the same in our world of fragile peace and empty promises.
While Christians today will not experience the terrible sufferings described in this chapter, we will have our share of the persecution and tribulation in this world if we are not already experiencing it, before the Lord returns (cf John 16:33; Acts 14:22).
In the second reading, St. Paul expresses profoundly his gratitude to God for the graces He has bestowed on the Corinthian community. He assures them that God is faithful to his promises of making them constantly His own. In the same way, in the Ordinary Time of the Church’s Liturgical Year, the truth of our Faith was unraveled to us so that we can claim this promise that St. Paul today thanks God for.
The Season of Advent is here with us again in which our faith is expounded to us so that we can relive it in the Ordinary Season. How far have we lived this faith experience last year? Another opportunity avails itself this year.
In sum, whatever our challenges are today, the warnings of this message in Mark 13 may be applied to our own lives: “Take heed that you are not deceived” ( cf Mark 13:5,23); “Take heed that you do not become discouraged and quit” ( Mark 13:9); “ Take heed, watch and pray” ( Mark 13:33) and “ What I say unto you, I say unto all, ‘ watch’ ( Mark 13:37). Maranatha: Come Lord Jesus!
Source: Rev. Fr. Aaron Agorsor
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