Happy New Year everybody. Yes! It’s the new year. Not the new calendar year – we have to wait until January 1 for that celebration. Today marks the beginning of the new liturgical year. The season of Advent marks a new beginning for us. We begin a new cycle of readings, and this year we feature the gospel of Mark. Today begins a new liturgical year.
Today is a time for resolutions and renewals. Just as on January 1 people make all kinds of new years resolutions, so we as Catholics begin Advent with resolve to prepare for the second coming of Jesus. He is indeed coming, and we are called to prepare diligently for his return.
And how exactly are we to prepare for the coming of the Lord? The readings this weekend give us some strong instructions. They are full of the call to repentance.
Isaiah calls on God to come down and redeem the people. He laments that “we are sinful, all of us have become like unclean people, all our good deeds are like polluted rags, we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind.”
Jesus He speaks sternly to his disciples, commanding them to “be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.”
In the letter to the Corinthians St. Paul starts by giving thanks to God for the church in Corinth. He remembers how God has given them every gift and blessing. He praises God for making the commitment to keep the church firm to the end. But don’t let these opening lines in 1 Corinthians fool you. All through the rest of Corinthians Paul offers correction to the Corinthians for their sinful behavior during his absence.
So here is the basic idea of it.
Isaiah – all of us have become unclean people.
Paul – despite the grace of God poured upon us, we have committed sins
Jesus – be watchful, be alert, and awake. You do not know when the Lord is coming.
These are sobering readings for the beginning of Advent. It is like a dash of cold water on the face. Advent is a clear call to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord through repentance.
When the culture of death so prevalent in our modern society continues its relentless attack on the life and dignity of the human person, we can see that we as a people need conversion. When we look within ourselves and recognize our own guilt, we know that we as individuals need conversion. We begin Advent recognizing that we cannot save ourselves. We need a Savior.
Here in the church we have this beautiful Advent reminder of the gift of salvation that comes to us in Christ Jesus. It is the Advent wreath that we blessed at the beginning of Mass. The lit candles remind us that Jesus is forever the light of the world. He is the light that shines in the darkness. The light of Christ, symbolized by the four candles, show us the path of salvation that is marked out for us.
Here’s the first candle. Let’s remember the first words of Jesus in the gospel from this candle. Be watchful! How do we do that? Be watchful by a regular examination of conscience. Be watchful for opportunities to do God’s work. Be watchful for those near occasions of sin and avoid them. Be watchful for those opportunities to receive the sacrament of penance this Advent. With God’s help, we can light that candle of spiritual watchfulness in our lives.
Here’s the second candle. Be alert! Be alert by meditating on the teachings of our faith. Meditating on the Bible and on church teaching goes a long way to help us be spiritually alert. Read the Word of God. Learn the teachings of the Church. In order to help us in our spiritual alertness consider this little motivation. Try it. “No bible no breakfast, no bible no bed.” You get the idea - a little devotional time in the morning and at night will go a long way to help us become spiritually alert. With God’s help, we can light the candle of spiritual alertness in our lives.
Here’s the third candle. Stay awake! We become spiritually awake through prayer. In the gospel Jesus told his disciples this – “may he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.” Jesus asks each of us to wake up and pray. Wake up from our spiritual deadness and come alive when we pray together at Mass. Wake up at home and rekindle daily family devotions. Wake up spiritually and persevere in prayer. With God’s help, we can light the candle of spiritual wakefulness in our lives.
Here’s the fourth candle. The Lord is coming! He knows our He’ll illumine our hearts when we turn to him in repentance. He’ll illumine our minds when we turn to him for understanding. He’ll illumine our souls when we turn to him in prayer. The Lord is coming. He is forever the light of the world. He is coming again to judge the nations. His coming will overthrow the culture of corruption and death that so permeates the societies of today. His coming will usher in an era of peace. He will come and make all things new. With God’s help, we can light the candle of spiritual renewal in our lives.need for salvation and He is eternally faithful to come and help us.
His second coming will be a surprise, just as the first one was. But his coming will be at the perfect time. In the meantime, we have this beautiful reminder – the advent wreath. Let this Advent wreath be for us a prophetic sign – a spiritual light in the darkness of our times. Let it remind us to do what Jesus tells us to do today. Be watchful! Be alert. Stay awake! Jesus is coming.