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33 Be on watch, be alert, for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It will be like a man who goes away from home on a trip and leaves his servants in charge, after giving to each one his own work to do and after telling the doorkeeper to keep watch. 35 Watch, then, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming—it might be in the evening or at midnight or before dawn or at sunrise. 36 If he comes suddenly, he must not find you asleep. 37 What I say to you, then, I say to all: Watch! ”
The previous liturgical year, Cycle A, ended with three Sundays in which the Gospel readings had an apocalyptic or eschatological context and character. In these three cases, God’s presence in the final judgment was symbolized under the images of a bridegroom, the master of a household, or a king. He had been absent up to that moment and arrived or returned to evaluate the tasks that the other characters, ten young women, three servants, or all the nations, were expected to have carried out. Today, we also find a master and a doorkeeper. The master’s return means it is time to give account for what we have done, to submit our life to judgement. The problem, we were warned, is that no one but the Father knows the time in which that judgement will take place. The only thing we know is that the “coming” will happen unexpectedly. Hence, the warning from the Lord: “Be on watch, be alert” (Mark 13:33). This attitude of alertness links not only Advent, but also the whole course of the liturgical year, with the reality of human life.
We find here the three dimensions in which our existence spreads out: heirs as we are to the promises from the past (the announcement of a Messiah who is both judge and Lord of history), we look forward to his coming at the end of time. As Christian believers, we recognize that Messiah came in historical, real time, and in a particular place: twenty centuries ago, in Palestine. At the same time, as citizens of this world, we endeavour to find the promised Messiah among us, here and now. This time of Advent, then, is a crossroad in whose celebration past, present and future meet simultaneously. It is a time in which, looking backwards, we will recall all the promises that God made to Israel.
The first readings will be taken mainly from the book of Isaiah, and in all cases the coming of the Lord will be announced as the Good News of salvation for his people. Looking towards the past, too, we will contemplate a double historical coming of the Messiah: his birth in Bethlehem, and the commencement of his ministry. That is why the cycle of Christmas will end with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. We look also towards the future, the final goal of history in which, as we heard last Sunday, all of us, “all nations,” will be summoned to settle accounts with the Son of Man, and our lives will be subjected to a final judgement on the basis of love and solidarity.
But Advent is also a time to look attentively to the present. Besides the historical and eschatological comings of the Lord, there is another humble, quiet, but decisive coming of the Lord to our common current life. In this sense, we must link this time with the reading of Matthew 25:31-46 that we heard last Sunday: the Lord arrives to us every day in those who suffer around us. We must keep our eyes open and be alert to discover him, so that we do not have to hear the same reproach some of Jesus’ contemporaries heard — even if you see with your eyes, you are blind to the reality of the Lord who comes to you, not only in this solemn time of Advent, but in every moment of your life.
In many Christian traditions, it is customary to light four candles, one every Sunday of Advent, as a sign announcing the coming birth of the Lord. Think of the ways in which you can “light your inner candles” as a reminder of the care, and the loving attitude you should show towards the Lord who comes to you in your brothers and sisters. Christmas is at hand. Even more than a few weeks ahead of it, our streets and homes, our schools and stores, TV commercials and magazines, everything is invaded by music, images and décor announcing the birth of the Lord. Consider to what extent all that becomes a noise which distracts us from the real coming of Christ: in the quiet of the night, when and where nobody expects him. Try to make space for an inner silence to listen to his humble presence.
Pray for yourself, that you may not slumber and forget your attitude of Christian watchfulness while you wait for the coming of our Lord. Pray for those (maybe you are one of them) who have given up waiting for the Good News of God and for those who routinely live their fading faith, that Advent time may renew their desire to receive the Lord.
We know that we “have not failed to receive a single blessing as we wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed” (1 Corinthians 1:7); read, then, quietly the instructions which Paul gives to the Christian community in Rome (Romans 1:11-14) and see in which way you, too, can keep the same attitude of watchfulness that today’s liturgy recommends.
Reflections written by Rev. Fr. Mariano Perrón Director of Inter-Religious Affairs Archdiocese of Madrid, Spain