First Sunday of Advent (Year A)

First reading                       Isaiah 2:1-5

Responsorial Psalm          Psalm 121(122):1-2,4-5,6-9

Second reading                   Romans 13:11-14

Gospel                                   Matthew 24:37-44

I have a question. What’s the first thing you do each day? What’s your morning “ritual” so to speak? Do you get up and shower? Do you pray? Do you put on the news and have a coffee first? Or perhaps you go for a walk first thing? Whatever order we choose to do things in, I bet that all of us get dressed in the morning. In fact, I can see that this is the case! And thank God for that!

Now, I ask this because the ordinary everyday act of getting dressed each morning has a lot to do with the season of Advent, which begins today. This simple action (or not so simple depending on your taste), marks both the end of something and the beginning of something. When we get dressed, we put sleep and night behind us, and we enter the day that is ahead. We generally leave behind the fog of drowsiness and lethargy, and instead become wakeful and increasingly alert; we become ready (although if you’re anything like me, this doesn’t happen until after the morning coffee!).  

What is more, St Paul writes to the Romans in our Second Reading today that “the time” has come. What time? His original Greek text says the “hour” for you to wake from sleep. That hour is both an end and a beginning. It is the end of sleep and the beginning of daylight, but of course St Paul is not talking about physical sleep nor of ordinary daylight. For he goes on to clarify that we must cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light, which are clearly referring to a metaphorical darkness and light. Though our liturgical translation completely misses it, St Paul uses the language of changing our clothes. “Take off” or “lay aside” the works of darkness and “put on” or “be clothed in” the armour of light, he says. The night and the sleep we are to wake up from, then, wherein the “works of darkness” thrive, is that of our ignorance, our lukewarmness in the faith, our willingness to sin, our slavery to the flesh, our inertia and our foolish tarrying amidst worldly things. Under the tyranny of these things all manner of evil acts can grow. Throw it off, he says. Be clothed rather in the armour of light, walking as in the day. What is the day, what is this armour of light? We know from John’s Gospel that Jesus is the light of the world (Jn 1:4-5; 8:12). He is the radiance of the Father. In fact, St Paul says as much when he clarifies, “let your armour be the Lord Jesus Christ”, or, in the Greek text, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 13:14).

Now, dear brothers and sisters, this is the key, I believe, to the Advent Season. Advent is a penitential season; it is not party time! It is a time for giving up and putting away all that gets between us and Jesus, but it’s not just a “no” to sin. It is above all, a “yes” to Jesus. While we must throw off the works of darkness, that’s not enough. We must clothe ourselves in Christ so that the daylight of his presence may enfold us in his divine embrace. That means this Advent season must be above all a time of increased prayer, a closer attentiveness to Jesus’ presence amongst the busyness of the day and a more deliberate effort to access the Sacraments. Going to confession is essential for this, and you might like to also consider making a commitment to an extra Mass per week. 

This brings me to today’s Gospel. Just as St Paul tells us we need to wake up and get dressed because the day is dawning, Jesus himself warns us in the Gospel today that he is coming. In other words, He, the eternal day, is dawning right now. Yet unlike the earthly dawn, Jesus says that his coming is sudden and unexpected, like the flood that suddenly and unexpectedly came upon the earth in the time of Noah and swept away the evildoers. “Therefore”, he says, “you too must stand ready.” My friends, when we hear that “the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect”, we often tend to think of this in terms of the future. And indeed, we do look forward to Christ’s second and definitive advent. But, I want to suggest that perhaps the most unexpected hour of all is actually the present one. It’s easy to rest on our laurels and think Christ’s coming is one day in the future which doesn’t really concern us. But in fact, Jesus doesn’t say “the son of man will come at an unexpected hour”, he says “the son of man is coming.” It’s in the present tense! Hence Jesus’ warning fits perfectly with St Paul’s instruction to wake up and get dressed immediately since the day is already dawning!

Brothers and sisters, Advent is NOT merely a time of preparing to celebrate Jesus’ birth at Christmas, as if we’re simply waiting around for the nice family season to reoccur year after year in memory of what happened once upon a time. No! This is convenient, because it doesn’t mean anything! It doesn’t change us or challenge us to change. It simply encourages us to stay asleep and revel in the (commercialised) routine, which is the total opposite to the Scriptures. On the contrary, the liturgical seasons don’t just go around and around each year in a cycle like the earth’s four seasons; they are rather a spiral, drawing us further towards the centre, deeper down into the mystery of Christ’s life with us.

Indeed, Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” It is meant to lead us further into that most unexpected hour of arrival that is right now, such that we become so “awake” to Jesus’ presence in our lives that when his final advent comes upon us, our present communion with him simply flowers, reaching its climax. So, brothers and sisters, the season which begins today is a wake-up call. It calls us to conversion, to real change. As we journey day by day over the next four weeks, deeper into the mystery of Christ’s presence with us, which commenced at the very first Christmas, let’s be attentive. Let’s pray for attentiveness, for a wakefulness and a sense of urgency and conversion of life to what is already in our midst. If we do this, by the time Christmas comes around, we won’t simply be in the same place we were last year (and the year before… and the year before). Let us wake from sleep now and clothe ourselves in the radiance of Christ, who in just a moment shall appear to us on the altar of sacrifice.


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