“Be watchful! Be alert!” The words Jesus uses call us to attention. They call for vigilance. They call for preparations. These are the words that begin the Season of Advent. The season, which also marks the new beginning of the liturgical year, affords us the opportunity to be renewed in our awareness that the Lord is coming. He will be here soon.
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux speaks of three comings of the Lord which we recall during Advent. The later part of the season we prepare for the Lord’s first coming which we celebrate at Christmas. However, this is only the final days of the season, just before Christmas. The first part of the season invites us to reflect on our readiness for His second coming, His return. Saint Bernard also speaks a third coming, which is continual, His ever abiding presence and coming into our hearts, everyday, regardless of season.
“Be watchful! Be alert!” can be used in a variety of contexts. They can be for warning. Jesus in a passage similar to today’s reading uses the example of thief preparing to rob a house. Anyone who owns a home can easily relate to this example. If the homeowner knows when the thief is coming, he or she will take every precaution to prepare. Locks will be installed or changed. Extra lighting around the house might be installed. An alarm system would be set up. They might even alert the police to seek their assistance. All this work and effort is done to protect those living in the household, the family. It makes total sense. In today’s passage, Jesus uses the example of a master leaving his servants in charge of the household. The “alertness” here is used to urge preparation, and even joy. The master will return but does not say when. The servants should be ready for his arrival and be prepared to greet him upon his return. There is a great opportunity for the servants to rejoice in the arrival, but they need to be prepared – and not fall asleep – so to share in that joy.
Isaiah utters a prayer calling for the Lord to come and bring His people back to Him and His covenant. The awesomeness of God, His might, and His love are captured beautifully in these words, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as they had not heard from of old. No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him.”
One aspect of this plea which may help us in our vigilance is prayer. Isaiah is raising his voice, his heart, his inner self to God seeking His coming. He and the people Israel are seeking healing.
We face many challenges today in our country and world. The wars which are currently raging. The injustice to innocents caught in the plight. The worries of the economy. The use of illegal drugs. The quandary of refugees and immigrants. The anxiety over climate change. These only scratch the surface. We live in a broken world in need of healing.
Isaiah reminds us by his example to turn to the Lord in prayer. We ask Him, beg Him to return and deliver us.
As we wait in prayerful vigilance, Isaiah’s words also urge us to action – “would that you might meet us doing right.”
Isaiah recognizes our brokenness, our sinfulness, and the prayer continues seeking the Lord’s help, “Yet, O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.” He is the one who can heal, forgive, and strengthen us for doing good or “right.” Saint Paul likewise urges us to vigilance by choosing to do good by remaining faithful until the Lord’s return.
First, he thanks to God for the graces bestowed upon the Corinthians in Christ Jesus. The gifts bestowed help the community of believers to be strong in their life of faith, hope and love.
Second, he reminds these early Christians (and us) that God is with them and it is He who will keep them “firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
The new year commences today as we begin the Season of Advent. The time is now for our prayer for the Lord’s return.
As we await in joyful expectation, we do so prepared by doing what is good and right.
His abiding, ever present Spirit enlivens our hope and helps us to hear His voice say to us, once again, “Be watchful! Be alert!”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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