And so begins a new Liturgical Year and how fitting it is that in this first season we slow down and remember the coming of Christ “in flesh in Bethlehem, in our hearts daily and at the end of days in glory.” The beginning of the year within our cyclical readings and liturgical arrangement commences with a period of waiting and preparation. The year before having ended after a stretch in Ordinary Time, the whole Catholic Church is now waiting and preparing for the coming of Christ. Just as the world, just over 2000 years ago, hoe hummed along into a period where the Word would become flesh and dwell among it. Just as it hoe hums along as Christ is born daily in our hearts through our devotion and obedience of His commandments today. And just as it will hoe hum to the last second of it’s own existence in the face of the glory of it’s Creator.
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come. It is like a man travelling abroad: he has gone from home, and left his servants in charge, each with his own task; and he has told the doorkeeper to stay awake. So stay awake, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming, evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn; if he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!’ (Mark 13:33-37)
The beauty and mystery in understanding the season of Advent and the coming of Christ in a threefold manner is manifested in the relevance of what Jesus is saying to each point. When we focus Advent on the coming of Christ in flesh, we see how the Word was made flesh in this world while all it stood in ignorance of His coming. Focusing how Christ in our own lives daily, we remind ourself and heed the call to “stay awake.” And it is certainly clear in this passage that Christ is speaking of the end of days here. All three understandings of Advent which are concurrent and distinct are present in Christ’s words from the Gospel of Mark.
In the part of the passage just before the readings today, we are reminded of the events that are supposed to culminate and signal the end of times. During his sermon today, Father O’Brian touched on this sensitive subject, especially with how some have come to view or articulate what Christ calls the “elect.” Indeed, all baptized Christians, who serve His Bride the Catholic Church are the elect. And what is important to note is that those who serve the Lord and His Holy Catholic Church will be separated by God at the end of time. However, the focus of today is on what Christ says in the readings, and we can look at what Christ is saying here as a quick addendum to what He spoke about earlier (but not officially captured in today’s readings), when He spoke about the end of days. We must be careful, because although the end of days will come and Christ will be glorified before all of creation once and for all (after a period of terrible events on humankind and the whole world), we do not, cannot and will not know when it will happen. It is as if the owner has left and he has not told us when he will return. We must continue to do all of the things the owner wants and likes around the house, for at any time he could return from his journey away.
There are many times in the Gospels when Christ illuminates a concept from the Old Testament (and His own jewish upbringing and teachings) and then swiftly tacks on a newer concept that is related and yet radically different than the original thought. It is what makes His explanation that He comes not to condemn the law but to fulfill it even more powerful. In this instance, Jesus speaks of the end of time, which would not have been a foreign concept to the group of Jews with whom He is presumably speaking. Indeed, the Jewish faith is enriched with the concept of God’s glory manifesting itself in totality at the end of the time. And furthermore, speaks of great retribution for God chosen people (we could say the Jewish concept of the ‘elect’) which comes alongside the coming of glory of God. I would wager that many in the crowd Jesus was addressing would have been nodding their heads in agreement as He spoke of the wars with nations against nation and kingdoms against kingdoms. It was not a foreign concept that the end of times would unfold in such a manner. But then Jesus speaks of something different. He humbles the Jews by saying very clearly that no one will know when the day of reckoning and glory will come. In one instance, He goes so far as to say that not even the Son knows of when the Father will impose His will for the end of time on humanity and the whole world. This is new and this is radical. It means that we cannot put off our requirement as the elect to serve God and His Church, to be a constant reminder and presence in this world of Himself. We cannot say that this debt shall be repaid tomorrow. We cannot say that this fight shall be ended tomorrow. We cannot say I will make amends tomorrow. For there may indeed never be a tomorrow.
Advent is about waiting and preparing for the coming of Christ in the flesh at Christmas, in our hearts daily and in glory at the end of time. May we recommit ourselves to Christ this Advent as we all wait and prepare for the coming of Christ. We do so today with an understanding that the end of days may come at any time, and without any warning, and therefore as the elect we are all called to be ready now and prepared now. Stay awake.