Isaiah 63:16-17; 64:1, 3-8; 1Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37
If we have been attentive to the Gospel readings over the last three weeks we will have noticed a certain pattern emerging.
Firstly, they all speak about a certain 'time' that will undoubtedly come - the time of the return of someone important who has been absent.
- Three weeks ago it was the time of the arrival of the bridegroom.
- Two weeks ago it was the time of the return of the master.
- Last week it was the time of the coming of the Son of Man.
- This week it is the time of the return of a man from abroad.
Secondly, we notice that in each of these Gospels there are those who are waiting for this return.
- Three weeks ago it was the bridesmaids.
- Two weeks ago it was the servants with the talents.
- One week ago it was 'all the nations' - the sheep and the goats.
- This week it is the servants and the doorkeeper.
Thirdly, we notice that the exact time of this moment of return is uncertain. Those who are waiting for it do not know when it will happen - evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn - who knows?
Fourthly, each of these Gospels sees this moment of return as a decisive moment for those who are waiting. In fact, it is a moment of judgment for them.
And so, finally, these Gospels, either explicitly or implicitly, offer us a warning - So stay awake! Be on your guard! Stand ready!
Now all that is simple enough.
- Jesus is the absent Master.
- We are the waiting servants.
- Jesus will return unexpectedly.
- We will be finally judged.
Of course we are powerless to stop any of this happening. There is only one part of it that depends on us and that is - the decision to be ready or not, to be awake or asleep.
The prophet Isaiah makes the difficulty very clear. Left to ourselves, waiting for the Lord, we all tend to face the same temptation - to start amusing ourselves while we wait.
Little Red Riding Hood couldn't resist picking the flowers on her way to grandma's house and got herself lost. Our temptations are not much different. It's hard to keep working while the boss is away - the servants give themselves all kinds of liberties until finally they forget the boss completely.
Isaiah cannot understand why the Lord is so slow in appearing.
Why, Lord, leave us to stray from your ways and harden our hearts against fearing you?
Isn't that well put ... to harden our hearts against fearing you? That's exactly what happens when the thought of God goes out of our minds - bit by bit we lose our remembrance and our 'fear' of him and so we stray from his ways.
No one invoked your name or roused himself to catch hold of you.
Isn't that the truth? It is prayer, invoking the name of God, which keeps the remembrance of God alive in us. Faithfulness to Sunday Mass, the family rosary, Lectio Divina - all make God real in our life and strengthen our faith.
And isn't it true that so often we have to 'rouse ourselves' to pray. Life can be so comfortable or we can be so tired. We have to make a decision .. Get up! Stay awake! Pray! It really is like 'catching hold of God'!
The prophet can see it happening all around him just as we can see it happening today. People forgetting God and straying from the path - old people, young people, of all kinds.
And so Isaiah prays that beautiful, anguished prayer: Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down.
As the antiphon to the psalm says today: Let us see your face and we shall be saved.
Let me leave you with one final thought implied in this Gospel.
If we do not know what time Jesus will come then he may come at any moment - even now. This means that we must be ready NOW! Are you?
This is the message of Advent - prepare yourselves for his coming - be ready now because 'yeah-yeah-in-a-minute' may be too late.