Today begins a new liturgical year. Although God is timeless, we live in time. Today we bless our Advent Wreath as a sign of our growing anticipation of the joy of Christmas. I hope many of you keep this custom also in your homes. While God is timeless, we live in time. At every moment the story of human history is being written. The season of Advent is very much about the intermingling of the eternal and the temporal. God is both the author and goal of human history.
The Advent season calls us to look forward as much as it invites us to look back. Three times in today’s Gospel Jesus tells us to “Watch,” to be vigilant. We look back to what God has spoken through the prophets, see those words fulfilled in Jesus Christ and trust in his promise to come again. He comes both as judge and savior. For the sinful, that is an event to be feared; for the faithful, it means vindication and deliverance from suffering and death. In today’s Second Reading Saint Paul describes the posture of the Church as “wait[ing] for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He says that, if we live in grace, we will be “irreproachable” on the day of his coming. Yet Isaiah in the First Reading confesses on our behalf that “we are sinful.” The only remedy is for us to turn our wills and our lives over to God, so that he may refashion us into people pleasing in his sight, as a potter makes something beautiful out of clay. The refrain of our Responsorial Psalm expresses the impatience that comes from the awareness of our weakness and our need for conversion: “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.” God, however, does not take over our liberty; we must freely turn to him and renounce our sins. He calls; he has revealed his will; he has given us the means to live lives pleasing to him and worthy of the name of Christian: faith, prayer and penance. This is the goal of life, “as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” (Embolism after the Lord’s Prayer) In the meantime: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” (Gospel)
As we begin this new liturgical year we also begin a new cycle of readings for Sunday Masses. The Sunday gospels will come mostly from the Gospel according to Mark, with some help from the Gospel according to John. Mark is the shortest and many scholars believe it to be the oldest of the four gospels. Next Sunday we will go to the beginning of Mark’s gospel and be introduced to the person of John the Baptist. Each of the four gospels is symbolized by one of the mysterious “four living creatures” mentioned in Revelation 4:6-7. Because John the Baptist is described there as “a voice of one crying out in the desert,” Mark’s gospel is symbolized by the head of a lion.
As we begin a new “year of grace,” continue to pray the rosary for peace and for the needs of the Church Universal. Pray especially for vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. Finally, continue to pray for an end to the pandemic and the development of an effective vaccine.
May God bless his people with peace.