“Stay awake for you do not know the day your master is coming” (Matthew 24: 42).
As we begin the new Cycle or a new Liturgical Year today, the First Sunday of Advent, we love to remind ourselves of an initiative that is entirely new that the Bishops of England and Wales have graciously given to us to help us to walk through this new year in ways that are pleasing to the Lord. Beginning from the First Sunday of Advent 2019 to the Feast of Christ, the Universal King 2020, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of England and Wales have set aside as “The Year of the Word: The God Who Speaks.” This offers us the opportunity to draw closer to God as we encounter Him daily in His Word. The Bible is expected to be moved from the shelves to the tables. We are called to read the Scriptures again and again in order to be more familiar with its demands and feel the presence of God’s love and mercy in our lives. The Word of God is expected to be the centre of our lives more than ever before. We are to Read it! Live it! And Share it!
The season of Advent is, strictly speaking, a season of preparation for the celebration of the Birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas. Christ’s coming at Christmas is both a reminder of His First Coming as man to redeem us all; and an anticipation of His Second Coming as the Judge of the living and the dead. As St. Cyril of Jerusalem puts it: “We preach not one coming only of Christ, but a second also, far more glorious than the first.” We are invited to share fully in the joy of the celebration of the Birth of our Saviour, and to the celebration of life in heaven for eternity. Both of these require preparations. And this is what Advent is about – preparation, while we wait with expectancy and hope.
Preparation is an activity that is very common to us all. We prepare for everything everyday – we rise to prepare for the day; to go work, to school, to the market, to Church, we all need to prepare; the cook prepares the ingredients before cooking; the student prepares for examination; the professor prepares for lectures; the lawyer prepares his defence; the doctor prepares for surgery; and even the priest prepares for the celebration of the Holy Mass and for his homily. In all these, what is common is that we get the right things in place in order to do the best and get the best results. The preparation during the season of Advent has the same aim in sight: we prepare to be the best souls ready to meet our Lord at Christmas and when He comes again in glory. The words of Isaiah (40: 3) “Prepare a way for the Lord”, which John the Baptist identified himself with captures the spirit of this season as we prepare to a place in our hearts for the Lord to dwell in and to meet with Him on the Last Day.
But how do we prepare? Jesus provides the answer to this in the Gospel (Matthew 24: 37-44): “Stay awake”, He says, “for you do not know the day your master is coming” (Matthew 24: 42). In the Second Reading (Romans 13: 11-14), St. Paul exhorts his early converts in Rome in similar words: “… you must wake up now: our salvation is even nearer than when we were converted” (Romans 13: 11). We find the element of ignorance as it makes the need for preparation a constant necessity in the lives of Christians. Even when Paul says: “You know the time has come …” (Romans 13: 11) he does not claim any exactitude about the time. Remember Jesus had just told us in the preceding verse that “No one knows when that day or hour will come – neither the angels in heaven nor the Son; the Father alone knows” (Matthew 24: 36). So do not let anyone deceive you about “the day” as some have been deceived in the past. In fact, to know the day is not as necessary as being prepared for the day.
To emphasise this claim and drive home the message, Jesus uses two distinct analogies: the unawareness of the people at the time of Noah that were eating and drinking, men and women getting married until the day of the flood; and the householder who, if he had known, when the burglar would come would not have let him. The Advent us the opportunity to be prepared for this unknown day. The best way to prepare for an event with an unknown date is to be prepared for it at all times. Same applies here.
So let us be prepared by waking up from our slumber. The Bible uses the word “sleep” to refer to moments of spiritual darkness, spiritual lethargy, spiritual weakness when we are withdrawn from God, when we are deep in sin, when we cannot kindle that relationship and are unable to make a connection with God; those times when one does not find joy in fellowshipping with the children of God. This is the “night” of our lives and of our souls. St Paul again urges us to wake up because: “The night is almost over: it will be daylight soon.” For Paul, this time demands action – a conscious stripping of the self of all desires of the flesh, namely: “drunken orgies, promiscuity or licentiousness and wrangling or jealousy.” This is the only way to heed the command of Jesus: “So you too must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24: 44). The Word of God is on hand, as we celebrate The Year of the Word in this clime. A time to Read the Word of God, Live the Word of God and Share the Word of God to enable us to be ready for the day of the Lord’s coming.
The season of Advent is a season of cleansing and purification while we wait for the Lord’s coming so that we can “go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the Temple of the God of Jacob” (Isaiah 2: 3) with others rejoicing with the Psalmist in the house of the Lord.