The First Sunday of Advent - Reflection

‘[Jesus said] ‘keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back’ - Mark 13:35

Brothers and sisters, how are you at cooking? I must admit I’m not great; it’s the getting everything ready at the same time which I struggle with. To make matters worse there are some meats which can be in the oven for ages and seem to be getting nowhere and then all of a sudden bang they’re ready. It always catches me out; often enough I’ve become distracted by something else and I’ve lost track of time and I’m simply not ready. The table is not set, the veg is not done, I’ve not been paying attention, I’ve not been watching! The meat is ready but I’m not! The goose is cooked, but it’s me that’s stuffed!

This morning we once again begin our Advent period of reflection and it’s our readings which point the way. In our Old Testament passage, Israel are starting to get impatient. Isaiah the prophet existed at a time when everything seemed to be going wrong for God’s people. They were surrounded on all sides by different armies threatening their very existence, and though Isaiah knows it is Israel’s fault for ignoring God, still He prays that God would intervene. Isaiah—like all good Jewish people—knew his history. He had read—as we have this year—the account of how God rescued His people in the Exodus story. Isaiah knew of the plagues, the Passover, the escape from Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, and frankly He wants a bit of that now. Isaiah cries out:

‘Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.’

You know what God did respond, and He did come down…just not on the timetable of Isaiah. Does that sound familiar? God responding, just not on our timetable? God’s response to Isaiah—and indeed many other incidents in the Old Testament—was to come down at Christmas. Oh, God responded alright, He came as He promised, He came as a baby…and do you know what? Almost no one noticed! The people of Israel—God’s people—wanted God to act, but they weren’t ready when He did! Like me with roast dinners, God’s people got distracted waiting they weren’t watching and Jesus arrived without them noticing. The Goose was cooked—as it were—and their focus was elsewhere! The first Christmas, the first Advent came, and a part from Simeon and Anna, a part from three wise men in a far off country, no one was watching! Jesus arrived and virtually no one was ready. Now, Advent just means ‘arrival’—usually the arrival of a great person—and Jesus’ first Advent, His first coming, was at Christmas as a baby. However, Jesus has promised us a second Advent, a second coming, when He will return not as a baby but as our King to rule and reign. This is the Advent, this is the coming, which is the primary focus of this season. Jesus is coming and He wants us to be ready, and so He asks us to keep watch.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus says to us—as much as to the disciples: ‘Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come […] What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch!”’ Like keeping an eye on the roast in the oven, Jesus wants us to be mindful that at any minute He may return, and so me must be alert, we must be watching. What does that mean? What does it mean to keep watch? Are we to watch the skies, or wander the streets in sandwich boards declaring ‘Repent for Jesus is coming back’? No, that’s not what Jesus means!  When Jesus says ‘Keep watch’ He means keep watch over our lives, keep watch over our faith, so that we’re ready spiritually when He finally appears. Perhaps the cooking metaphor—of watching and preparing for the goose to be cooked—doesn’t really work for you. Well Jesus has a different one. Jesus’ metaphor in Mark’s Gospel is of a servant whose boss has gone away and who must keep watch for the boss coming back. 'It’s like a man going away [Jesus says]: he leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.’ That’s us—the one at the door—and we’re to keep watch. The boss—Jesus—is coming back, and while we won’t miss this coming, while we won’t miss this advent, we might find that we’re not ready when it happens. Like the boss returning and the house not being tidy, or like the roast being cooked and the table not being set. So what does it look like for a Christian to not be ready, to not be watching? When our lives look like everyone else’s! We’re not ready, we’re not watching, when we don’t pray, when we son’t take care of the poor, when we don’t help others to get ready by telling them about Jesus! The Lord is coming and the house isn’t tidy, God is knocking on the door and we’re still asleep. Advent then is given as a wake up call, a shout to get ready, to prepare ourselves, to look again at our lives and to ensure that we are ready, that we are watching and waiting. We stand at the beginning of Advent today and Jesus—along with Isaiah, along with the Church—turns to each one of us and—as it were—cries wake up, get dressed, get ready, and start watching for Jesus is coming back!

So, sisters and brothers, Advent is a time to take stock. First, how’s your prayer life? Let’s improve that in the next four weeks of Advent. Let’s make time each day to pray, and if we already doing that, let’s lengthen it, or even add a second prayer time. If you need help make sure that you have the Devotional, it will help you to read a whole book of the bible in four weeks, and it will give you prompts to pray; let’s become big prayers this Advent and so be a bit more ready for Jesus’ return. Second, how’s your giving? Let’s improve that in the next four weeks! You can give to church—we certainly need it—but of course there are other worthy causes, like giving to the homeless and to the poor. Remember the readings from last week, that to care for the poor is to care for Christ. Well, let’s become big givers this Advent and so be a bit more ready for Jesus’ return. Third, how’s your sharing of the faith? Let’s improve that in the next four weeks. Who do you know who doesn’t come to church, Advent can be a great time for you to invite them, for the first time or the thirty-first time. Let’s get ourselves ready, let’s keep watch for Jesus’ return by helping others to get ready. It’s easy for all of us—myself included—to get distracted by everything else going on in life and to let our faith drift, to let ourselves go spiritually to sleep. But it is time for us to rally ourselves and make sure that with God’s help, we’re as ready as we can be. This Advent let us wake from our spiritual sleep and prepare ourselves for Jesus’ return by improving our spiritual lives and therefore be those who are keeping watch. Amen (from Fr Mike).