To read the texts click on the texts: Isa 63:16-17,19; 64:2-7; 1 Cor 1:3-9; Mk 13:33-37
A man was being chased by a lion and began to run as fast as his legs would carry him, but he realized that the lion was gaining ground. He decided to change course and veered to the right, but as he turned, there was a tiger coming towards him. He was at his wits’ end and did not know what to do and so in his desperation he turned left to escape the tiger and soon found himself nearing the edge of the precipice. He was now perspiring not only from the strain of his effort but also because of fear that had gripped him. Then he woke up.
Are you awake or if you have been asleep have you woken up yet? “Stay awake!” is the rallying call of the Gospel text of today and sets the theme for the whole season of Advent. To stay awake – what does it mean for us today? What does it mean to stay awake when churches and other places of worship are being burned to the ground? What does it mean to wake up when women are being raped and dehumanized? What does it mean to stay awake when human beings are being tortured and killed mercilessly? What does it mean when our words and motives are being misunderstood?
It means very clearly that disciples of Jesus need not concern themselves with apocalyptic speculation or predictions of the future. They must remember that doing God’s will has no relationship to the timing of divine judgement. Neither should the disciples concern themselves with the fate of those who persecute them or who reject the message of unconditional love. The only question the master will ask is whether the servants have been faithful to their call as disciples, whether despite all odds they have been instruments of that love which he showed when he hung from the cross.
Being a disciple of Jesus does not just happen suddenly. It is a commitment that must be made constantly and a decision that must be renewed at every moment of every day. The root supposition of Jesus’ message is: we can aim higher. Holiness is possible. We are not obliged to merely accept the forces of cruelty, selfishness and oppression, within ourselves or in the world around us. We have to keep fighting against them and show them up for what they really are and once we have done all that is required of us, we must turn to God and open ourselves to his transforming grace and love.
This is also the message of the other two readings this Sunday. The prophet Isaiah is under no illusions about the selfishness and malice human nature is capable of. “Our sins blew us away like the wind”, he says. And yet, he goes on, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down”. If only the skies could open up and someone, something would come from outside of our troubled world and focus our attention on something other than ourselves and our narrow parochial interests! Something or someone from beyond ourselves to get our attention, move our gaze from our navels, and challenge us to work together rather than against one another.
In the Psalm, too, we hear the anguished voice of Israel, imploring God to look down from His heavenly throne – to save and shepherd his people. The psalmist, like Isaiah, is confident that Israel will indeed experience the protection of God who will come as he has always done in the past.
In this season of Advent, we declare that Isaiah’s cry has been answered. In response to the Psalmist’s plea, God has indeed looked down on his people and saved them in a way that they never imagine possible. This salvation is achieved not through violence o retaliating by throwing rock for thrown rock. The cry is not answered by retaining anger and resentment against those who seem to us to wilfully and wantonly destroy places of worship and the homes of the innocent. It is not answered by taking up arms and indulging in the same vile acts that others have engaged in. It is answered as God comes in the flesh to be among us, full of grace and truth. It is answered as the Son of God dies and is raised for the whole of creation.
Paul encourages the Corinthians by reminding them about God’s answer to the cry of the whole of creation. God’s grace has been given to them in Jesus Christ, and in every way they have been enriched by him. God is faithful.
With real anticipation we are called to live an ongoing life of faith, always open to what God promised to do, always trustful because God is faithful. Anticipation means staying awake, being alert and watchful. Thus Advent is a symbol of the Christian lifestyle, not just a mood we experience at a certain time of year. We know that while we despair at many happenings today, our world is not forsaken by God. Our Spirits are turned from despair to trust.
The symbolism of Advent is the symbolism of preparing ourselves for the imminent arrival of God: not only his entry into human history, commemorated at Christmas, but also the impact he would have on our lives now, if we made ready to welcome him or indeed, in the case of many of us, reawakened our desire for God which we have managed to bury under a pile of other preoccupations.
As Jesus says in the Gospel text of today, when God comes he must not find us asleep!