“Be watchful! Be alert!” Scripture scholars believe that Mark wrote the first Gospel in the late 60’s of the First Century, sometime before the Romans destroyed the City of Jerusalem. They were tired of the hometown terrorists trying to force them to leave their occupation.
Throughout the Gospels, we hear Jesus exhorting all of his disciples and followers to be watchful, to be prepared, to be alert.
The Gospel writer Mark alludes to Jesus’ words, and through them, warning the fledgling Christian community in Jerusalem that Jesus could see the signs of the destruction and the disorientation to come.
We don’t know if they were prepared. Had the Christians left before the great destruction happened, or not? There was an exodus of about one thousand fervent Jews to a Judean mountain wilderness called Masada around the same time. They were exterminated by the Romans.
The custom of Advent, or some weeks of preparation before Christmas, began in the mid-5th century. Some years after, a feast honoring the Birth of Jesus began to be celebrated a century before in Rome. It took centuries for cultural customs to develop and grow. You would see very little of the way that Christmas is celebrated today in the 5th century.
If St. Mark, our Gospel writer were living today, he would say: “Be watchful and alert” because he would see the threat of the Pandemic causing a disruption to our normal lives. He would see the rising temperatures of our climate wreaking havoc on nature with destructive weather patterns, the divisions caused by world leaders among their citizens, a disconnection from nature, a tribalism attacking the roots of unity between people.
Perhaps, St. Mark would alert us: “Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the House is coming… may he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.”
So, St. Mark’s Jesus is not talking about the end of the world but about late first century Christians to be ready for what he saw coming.
Were we ready, are we ready to face what is coming? We are in the middle of a pandemic that shows us no sign of disappearing despite promises of vaccines. We are in the middle of climate changes, enormous fires and fierce storms. Millions of our fellow citizens are unemployed or underemployed. Educational systems are upended. Racial protests and vandalism erupt. There is a stark social and political division facing a President-Elect.
We have been listening to Scripture REadings for the last several weeks to be alert to the signs of the times Some people are frightened. Some people have become depressed. Others are bored and angry. Others continue to party and to drink and to drug.
“O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel.” We hear this Christmas Carol each year. It was written in the 5th century during periods of great migration of large numbers of northern European peoples into the more settled parts of Southern Europe causing social havoc and physical destruction. History has called them Vandals, and thus we have today’s well known word, “Vandalizing.”
“O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel.”
For the next month, we are going to go through the same old customary actions and events of the Christmas and New Year season — the gifts, the food, the overdrinking, the putting on a face of cheer and trying to lift up one another’s spirit.
So “Advent, the Coming” is a 4-week season, and this year, we need the time more than ever. It is perfectly alright for us to scream at God: “Come and help us!” And it is perfectly alright for God to reply: “I am with you; are you with me? I am not going to wave a magic wand over you. So much of where you are today is your own doing.
“O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel…”
What will bring us stability? What is the new normal? I believe that God is letting us stew in our own juices. Recovering a confident personal relationship with God would help.
One of our problems today is that we have chosen to love objects and technology rather than other real people and God. For those of you who are tired of being cooped up, who are bored, that you cannot do what you want to do, who are depressed and angry, re-listen to the Prophet Isaiah’s confession on behalf of all the people of his day.
Speaking to God, he said: “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways. Behold you are angry and we are sinful… Yet… O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay and you the potter; we are all the work of your hands.” We need a spiritual and personal attitude adjustment.
“O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel…”
Instead of singing to God, we need to start talking to ourselves. What would happen to your life and its attitudes if we took all the time being given to us to start up a personal, consistent and real relationship with God, rather than gorge ourselves with TV. Don’t go to booze and drugs, don’t waste time. Go to God and spend time with God. If we let God’s personal characteristics shed off on us, we could begin to find a new freshness in our relationships — a bit more awake of who God really wants us to be like: positive, creative, aware, alert, patient, sensitive, wholesome, just, upbeat, finding new ways to reinvent the best of who we can be.
The God who has come, Jesus, told us that we “are the light of the world and the salt of the earth.”
God’s expectations for us are “less drama and more action.”
St. Paul reminds us today that God has given all the spiritual and personal knowledge to be the person that He is relying on us to be: “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Our world is not going to end, but God is waiting for us to keep what He has given us from sinking into the abyss. In fact, St. Paul writes : “He will keep you firm to the end… God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Advent is not “pity pot” time! Rather to re-find the God who is with us.
“O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”
He has. Let’s meet up with him, again!