Posted November 28, 2020
The Gospel Reading for this, the first Sunday of the new liturgical year (Mark 13: 33-37), repeats the message that we heard towards the end of the last liturgical year, namely: Stay awake! The end is nigh!
The event that the early Christians were to be on the alert for was the Second Coming, ushering in the end of the world and the consummation of all things. This turned out to be a bit of a non-event; or rather, to put it bluntly, it didn’t happen. Still, the theme of the Lord’s imminent return is sufficiently prominent in the New Testament to persuade some Christians to make it the centre of gravity of their Christian belief. Think of the various Adventist groups originating in nineteenth-century America, some of them still thriving.
Most Christians, however, reinterpret the theme of the imminent coming of the Lord, and apply it not to the Lord’s coming at the end of the world but to our own death, the ending of our personal histories in the not-too-distant future; and that makes a lot of sense. Today, however, the Church wants us to reinterpret the Second Coming in another way, that is, by applying it to the coming of the Lord at Christmas, with Advent being the period of eager expectation. And that makes a lot of sense too, for the Lord does come anew at Christmas and asks for hospitality in every human heart. It would be a great pity not to be eagerly awaiting him, to be unprepared, to miss out on all the blessings that this annual feast holds out to each one of us on our journey into eternity.
So the Church’s exhortation to us to prepare well for the imminent coming of the Lord at Christmas is no less urgent than the exhortation that was addressed to the earliest Christians awaiting the Lord’s Second Coming; and no less urgent than the exhortation addressed to all of us as fast falls the eventide and death draws ever closer.
The advent of Christmas invites us to take stock of our conduct and our moral attitudes. Are there aspects of our conduct that we shall regret when it is too late, when the Lord comes and at last we are compelled to face reality? We are busy people, much preoccupied with the business of life: there is our own financial security to think of, and the welfare of our families, our health, the pressures of work and so much else, and of course it would be foolhardy not to take these concerns seriously. And over and above all those things we have this year to try to cope with the fear, the anxiety, the wilderness and depression brought about by the dreaded Coronavirus. But not even this can dispense us from our obligation to take really practical measures to ensure that we have the freedom and opportunity to listen to God in the silence of our hearts, to give God our full attention. Advent invites us to subject our lives to a reality test, to stand firm against the moral drift that can take over the lives of even good and responsible people. Let this be a time of serious moral conversion, of re-examining our priorities in life, and, where necessary, resolutely changing our ways.
Advent is a great opportunity for us to prepare for Christmas, or for death, or for the end of the world, whichever comes first. Make good use of it. When the Lord comes, heaven forbid that he should find you unprepared. ‘What I say to you, I say to all: Stay awake!’
Fr Tom Deidun