FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT (B)
"When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior's first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for His second coming" (CCC 524). Listen to these words: ancient expectancy, long preparation, ardent desire. This is what Advent is meant to renew in us. It is fitting that as we begin a new liturgical year, the first psalm the Church prays in Morning Prayer in the Divine Office for today is Psalm 63. "O God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting. My body pines for you like a dry, weary land without water."
It can be difficult to keep Advent in college. The semester is almost over. You return from Thanksgiving break to busily finish up final projects and papers. Exam week is right around the corner. And then it is home again to celebrate the joy of Christmas with family. Before you leave campus there will be Christmas parties and wishes of "Merry Christmas," because the next time we see each other it will be the middle of January. What place is there for Advent in campus life? Yet I know college students know all about longing for something more, desiring a better future, a hope of peace and security, and having to wait for it all. You know all about anticipation.
The people of Israel had to wait nearly 700 years from the time Isaiah wrote his prophecy until they saw it fulfilled in Christ. Isaiah speaks on behalf "of those who wait for Him." He pleads that God might "rend the heavens and come down," but remembers to pray also that God "might meet us doing right." Isaiah knew how fickle and unfaithful the people of Israel could be while they waited for the Lord. Even at the Lord's coming, most of the chosen people completely missed it, so caught up were they in their own ways.
I'm sure you have seen the bumper sticker: "JESUS IS COMING: quick, everyone look busy." It is humorous, but it makes an important point. Just as the people of Isaiah's time did not know when their Lord was coming, so we today have no idea when the second coming of Christ will be. Christ Himself tells us in today's gospel reading (Mk 13:33-37), "Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come... May He not come suddenly and find you sleeping."
Like the people of ancient Israel, and indeed the whole ancient world (for God "awakens in the hearts of the pagans a dim expectation of this coming" (CCC 522)), we today still wait for the advent of our Lord. But there is a vital difference. The ancient world waited for One they knew not, while we await for the return of One whom we know.
Isiah's prophecy has been fulfilled. Two thousand years ago at the Annunciation, as Mary rendered her fiat ("Let it be done unto me according to Your word" (Lk 1:38)), God rent the heavens and came down. From that moment, everything changed. From that moment, we have lived in a different world. God existed for the people of the ancient world as behind a veil. Now the veil has been torn in two. So while we await that unknown day of Christ's second coming, we do not wait alone. We do not wait without help or hope.
Isaiah prayed that God might find His people faithful upon His coming. We hope for the same thing, but that hope is based in a firm trust in Christ. Christ has given us all we need to make us ready to meet Him in glory. St. Paul, in today's second reading (1 Cor 1:3-9) gives thanks "for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in Him you were enriched in every way... so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ."
We have the opportunity and great blessing today through the Church to build a relationship with God that is much more intimate and powerful than anything the ancient prophets could have imagined, so that even in our waiting we can get a foretaste of heaven. Do not squander that opportunity. Keeping close to God now will ensure that we remain close to Him on that blessed day when we will behold Him face to face. Until that day, let us be filled with a spirit of longing and desire for Him, and also a spirit of hope that He will find us faithful.
"Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come... May He not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: 'Watch!'" (Mk 13:33, 37).