Readings: Isaiah 63:16-17; 64:1.3-8; 1Cor 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37.
Picture the enthusiasm and impatience of a child who has drawn something in his or her notebook and is waiting for the teacher to see it. As the teacher goes around the classroom inspecting pupils’ work, the child puts up his or her hand and snaps his or her fingers to beckon the teacher to come and see what the pupil believes is a masterpiece worth seeing. Then imagine the ardent longing of a patient waiting for a dentist to come and pull out a tooth that has been giving him or her sleepless nights for many days. These two images capture the spirit of Advent as described by the readings appointed for the first Sunday of Advent, Year B.
In the gospel, Jesus invites his disciples to be awake so that the return of the Master may not take them by surprise. Jesus is obviously speaking of his second coming at the end of time. Jesus’ disciples are compared to servants who are given a task by their master before he travels abroad. It is expected that they will be busy at their task while the master is away. If they are doing their work well, they will be happy to show their good deeds to the master when he returns, just like the pupil is eager to show his or her masterpiece to the teacher.
Running forth: a sign of enthusiasm and eagerness
The collect for the Mass of the First Sunday of Advent illustrates the enthusiasm of the servants who are faithful to their task: “Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly Kingdom.” The collect imagines the servants running forth (a sign of enthusiasm and eagerness) to meet the master who is coming. They carry with them their righteous deeds to show him, knowing that he will be pleased with their works and choose them to be with him in his Father’s Kingdom. The collect makes allusion to Matthew 25:1: “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.” The bridesmaids are so eager to receive the bridegroom that they actually go out to meet him. The collect also refers to Matthew 25: 31-34:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
Christians who are busy at their task (feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, clothing the naked or visiting prisoners, among other works of mercy) can exclaim with confidence, “Maran’atha! Come, Lord Jesus!” They are eager to show these good works to their Master.
The Holy Spirit helps us to persevere amidst difficulties
But our Advent expectation is also motivated by our longing for healing and salvation, just as the patient with a terrible toothache ardently longs for the coming of the dentist. During our pilgrimage on earth, we are assailed by all manner of trials and temptations. We are tempted to lose hope in the face of difficulties. Knowing that our help is in the name of the Lord, we raise our voice to the Lord and ask him to hasten to our aid. The first reading from the Prophet Isaiah presents a gripping picture of a suffering people waiting for the coming of the Lord: “Return, for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your inheritance.”
But even as we undergo trials and temptations, it is important to remember that the Holy Spirit has been given to us to help us keep the faith. As Paul says in the second reading, “the witness to Christ has indeed been strong among you so that you will not be without any of the gifts of the Spirit while you are waiting for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed; and he will keep you steady and without blame until the last day, the day of our Lord Jesus.” The Holy Spirit helps us to persevere amidst difficulties. The Holy Spirit helps us to remain hopeful even as we reel under the toothache of poverty, joblessness, disease, death in our families or family breakdown. This hope becomes our manner of witnessing to the power of Jesus alive and active in the world.
As we prepare for the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, let us intensify the works of righteousness so that at Christmas we may with joy present our masterpiece to Jesus, God-made-man, just as the Magi presented their gifts to the King of kings.