First Reading: Is 63:16d-17. 64:1. 3b-8; Psalm: 80. R. v. 4; Second Reading: 1Cor 1:3-9; Gospel: Mk 13:33-37
WAITING IN WATCHFUL PRAYER
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
Today is the first Sunday of advent and the beginning of a new liturgical year (Year B). Today, we begin our four weeks journey to the coming of Christ at Christmas. Advent is a season of hope and expectation which necessitates adequate preparation for the coming of our Saviour, the baby Jesus. In every first Sunday of advent, the Church lights the first advent purple candle. This candle is called ‘the prophecy candle,’ and it symbolises hope. This is why in every first Sunday of advent; we customarily hear the prophecy of the Old Testament prophets foretelling the coming of the Messiah with hope and anticipation.
We hear this in the first reading of today from the prophet Isaiah. “Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage. O that you would tear the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence! . . . We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” This prophetic outcry of anticipation demonstrates that we are in a mess and in dire need of a saviour to redeem us. This however does not mean that Christ’s first coming at Bethlehem in the history of salvation was vain. But that advent should reawaken our consciousness to Christ’s mission of salvation so that we may stay awake and desist from evil so as to reap the fruits of his first coming.
Christ once entered the human history as God incarnate to save us from sin. But Christ also promised to come again on the clouds of heaven at the end of our life or at the end of time. We live between the first and the anticipated second coming of Christ. And within these two comings, we continually encounter Christ in the Word and Sacrament, in prayer, in charity, in love and in one another. Now, the reason we are in a mess is because we are lacking in prayer, lacking in love, lacking in charity and have failed to leverage on the fruits of the Word and Sacraments. Advent is a season to reflect on these gifts that Christ gave us as God incarnate and to recommit ourselves to them; so that when Christ is born at Christmas, we see, feel, and know from the face of the baby Jesus that our salvation is sure.
Jesus exhorts us in the gospel of today; “‘Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time will come . . . And what I say to you I say to all: Watch.’” These were the last words of Jesus as he concludes his eschatological speech in the gospel of Mark.
There is an unbroken link between the first and the second coming of Christ which explains the unbroken link between the first Sunday of advent and the last Sunday of the Church’s liturgical year. Christ’s first coming leads us all the way to his second coming. If Christ wasn’t born at Christmas, there will be no second coming. If there was no paschal mystery, there will be no judgment. So, what leads us all the way unhindered from Christ’s first coming to his second coming is our commitment to the fruits of his first coming upon which our judgment on the Last Day shall be centred. It is for this reason that Christ warns us: “Take heed, watch and pray.”
Advent is a season to watch and pray because the anticipation of Christ’s birth at Christmas is also a reminder that Christ, the God incarnate, who saved us, promised that he would come again to judge the living and the dead. So advent does not start and end within the four weeks assigned in the Church’s liturgical calendar. Advent, which means “coming,” should continually reverberate in our consciousness everyday that Christ is not done with us yet, but will come again to take us to himself at the end of time. So, we can say that advent is work in progress. And this work in progress is characterised by ‘watchfulness’ and ‘prayer.’
Our first reading of today concludes with the prophet Isaiah describing our relationship with God using the illustration of the potter and the clay. As the clay remains a work in progress in the potter’s wheel; so does God mould and shape us everyday into the life of watchfulness and prayer. So, as we begin our preparation for Christmas, God calls us to be mindful of the have-nots, so that we may not be wrapped up in our own selfishness. God calls us to be watchful of our busy Christmas schedules, so that it may not rob us of the reason for the Christmas season. And God continually calls us to be watchful in holiness and good deeds, that we may not miss out on his promises at the end of time.
Jesus also asked us to be active in prayer. Prayer here does not necessarily mean kneeling and vocally praying all day; but that we listen and remain in perfect communion with God. This communion with God is sustained when like responsible servants we do the work entrusted to us by Christ who came into the human history to show us the way; and now has journeyed back to the Father to come again to judge our commitment to these Christian duties.
Watchfulness and prayer therefore means to be alive in charity and love; and to continually abide with Christ in the Word and Sacrament. So, advent is a work in progress. It is a call to perpetually commit ourselves in doing the will of Christ our master; so that when he comes at Christmas, our faith is renewed. And when he comes to judge and the living and the dead, our soul is saved.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, renew our zeal and commitment to serving you; so that when you come again, you may find us watchful in prayer and active in love. Amen.