Gospel Reflection For the First Sunday of Advent, 3rd December 2023 by Fr Brian Maher OMI
Gospel Reflection for Sunday December 3rd 2023 | First Sunday of Advent
Over the years I have worked in several places which catered for visitors and therefore had important ‘Health & Safety’ regulations. One of the most important was fire safety, and at every check-in I reminded visitors that if they heard the fire alarm during their stay, it would not be a test and to take it seriously, meaning out as quickly as possible!
Yet, amazingly, time and time again, when the alarm did sound (always, thankfully, due to some fault), particularly during the night, quite a number just stayed in bed, while those who did respond seemed in no hurry at all, rambling out ten or more minutes after the alarm sounded. If I apologised for the inconvenience the following morning and maybe subtly asked why the others stayed in their rooms, most smiled vaguely and said, “we guessed it was a false alarm!”
I never dared ask them, “…but what if were not a false alarm?”
It seems that all of us, in different ways, have a unique ability to put off important things until it is too late or, at best, the last minute. The hordes of shoppers urgently dashing around shopping malls late on Christmas Eve is more than enough evidence of this. Each year they (dare I say ‘we’?) say, “Next year it will be different” and next year……well, you know the rest!
Mark, when he wrote his Gospel, was aware of this phenomenon and so, from the very beginning of his Gospel he is constantly reminding those who read it that what he says – what Jesus said – is both important and urgent. The word he uses repeatedly, sometimes making his writing sound awkward, is the word ‘immediately’. He wants to create the impression that even Jesus was in a rush to share his message with us; that he did everything ‘immediately’, so that he could rush off to the next place to share his message.
Mark was also the first to write his Gospel, evidence that he was the first to realise that what Jesus said and did needed to be written down, lest it be lost forever.
With that as a background, today’s Gospel jumps off the page at us. It yells at us, “This is urgent, don’t miss out on it, don’t ignore it or sleep through it. If you do you will miss something so awesome it cannot be fully comprehended..”
In case we might miss the urgency, he repeats it in different ways – “Be on guard…”, “Be alert…”, ‘keep watch…’, and his final, almost desperate appeal to us, “…What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’.
The message that Jesus brought was that the Kingdom of God was coming very soon and we needed to prepare for it. When, in the Gospel, Jesus says, “…you never know when that time will come…” the ‘time’ he is referring to is the time when ‘the Kingdom of God’ is finally with us. We often talk about it as the ‘end of the World’ and we mean it in a frightening, threatening kind of way, but that is not at all what Jesus means. The coming of the ‘Kingdom of God’ is the most joyful, awesome and satisfying thing imaginable.
We imagine that the world will end in cataclysm, and we use the language of the Old Testament to imagine it – the sun and moon falling to earth, great earthquakes, fear, trembling, etc.. This is language used throughout the Old Testament to describe the ‘power’ of God, and God’s control over everything that exists (sun, moon, stars, earthquakes, etc.). It is not meant to be taken literally. If I say that a soldier “was a lion in battle” we all know that that soldier was not literally a lion, but that he/she was strong, brave and courageous. The language of the Old Testament is similar.
When Jesus talks about the coming of the Kingdom of God, he is talking, I think, about something far more peaceful, more gentle, something closer to the kind of person he was and the kind of God he revealed to us.
In the ‘Our Father’, the prayer (or prayers) of Jesus himself, we find this, “…thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven.” As Jesus prays it, there does not seem to be anything violent or frightening about it. Jesus talks, it seems to me, as if the coming of the Kingdom on Earth will be more like a transition to the Kingdom in Heaven, which we know is simply Love. It is difficult for me to say the ‘Our Father’ and be in any way frightened or threatened by the coming of that Kingdom on earth.
God’s Kingdom is already here among us. How it will be fulfilled nobody knows. I certainly don’t! We can all have our own versions and pictures of how it comes about, and we can be sure that almost certainly they are all wrong!
Ask me how this planet will end and, if we don’t destroy it ourselves, which is, I fear, more and more possible, I can tell you that in about 7 billion years (give or take a few hundred million!) our Sun will expand, devouring our planet in a hot, fiery death. In cosmological and scientific terms this will be ‘the end of the world’ but will this be when God’s Kingdom will come “on earth, as it is in Heaven?”.
I have no idea, but I very much doubt it, and thankfully I will not be around to find out!
What I do know is that if we imagine the coming of ‘God’s Kingdom’ to be a time when Love reigns ‘on Earth as it does in Heaven’, then I know that the way I choose to live my life now will make that time a little bit closer or a little bit further away.
Imagine if two and a half billion Christians suddenly and urgently began to live the message of Jesus in their lives. Imagine how so many of our world leaders would change. Imagine how politics would change. Imagine how institutions, and multi-national companies would change. Imagine how the country I presently live in would change. Imagine how my neighbourhood, or parish, or family, or just my own life would change.
Change always begins with one person, one idea, one plan, one message. For us that person was Jesus and the message was ‘The Sermon on the Mount’. Now, every day, as followers of Jesus, we are called to make the ‘Kingdom of God’ a little bit more visible by “feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick and visiting the captive”, just as we read in last week’s Gospel.
We can stay in our rooms when the fire alarm sounds, leaving it to others to check or just ignoring the danger. Of course we can, and that is dangerous for ourselves and for others who may die trying to save us.
…And we can stay in our own narrow, selfish worlds, complaining about the way things are, and leaving it to others to make the necessary changes. Of course we can, and that is dangerous for ourselves and for everyone else on our planet. One quick look around our world; at our politics, many of our leaders, the ways we treat each other, and the huge danger we are in shouts at us to be taken seriously.
Mark, in today’s Gospel, recognises the importance and urgency of Jesus’ message. It is why he shouts at us: “Be on your guard; Be alert…. Jesus has left us in charge of his world, each of us with our own assigned tasks (our families, our careers, our responsibilities and opportunities). When he returns he must find us ready and waiting. It is urgent; it is immediate.”
Jesus brought the fire of Love and life to earth. His resurrection sounded the fire alarm. We are called to respond – urgently and immediately.
But will we?
If you have any comments, questions or thoughts on this scripture reflection, please feel welcome to email me at email@example.com
|Gospel Sunday December 3rd 2023
If he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep
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