Isaiah 63:16-17, 64:1.3-8; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37
Advent is not so much about waiting for the Lord with our noses pointing to the future, as about being ready for the Lord in the here and now. And why? Because he is on his way now.
The present moment is the only moment we have; it is a gift handed to us by the future and immediately reclaimed by the past. We cannot stockpile the present.
When Jesus comes it will be in the present moment; he will not come in the past nor will he come in the future – his coming is always now - because that is the only moment in time in which we exist.
Seen from our earthly perspective as people who live in space and time - only our now, like a portal or a wormhole, is open to the eternity in which God exists.
However, for God things are very different. God lives in an eternal now and our past, present and future are all equally present to him.
If God does not live in time, neither does he live in space. Time and space are as much created realities as trees and possums. Just as this world will one day come to an end, so will time and space and then there will be only eternity.
So the question Advent poses us is not will you be ready but are you ready – here and now? In other words, you will only be ready for the Lord when he comes if you are ready now.
As we all know, the man of today’s gospel is Jesus who lived among us on earth in time. He is ‘travelling abroad’ (ascended into heaven) but he will return. His return will be unexpected and decisive. No one knows the day or the hour of his coming which will be for all a moment of irreversible judgment. So, what Jesus says to his disciples and to all is simply: Stay awake.
This command of the absent Master is not, of course, a call to mass insomnia; but then, how are we to understand it? What does it mean to stay awake at all times, to be on our guard seven days a week, every week?
The gospel tells us that the man who has ‘gone abroad’ has left his servants (that’s us) in charge: each with his own task. Luke (12:43), speaking of this God-given task informs us: Happy that servant if his master's arrival finds him at this employment … . Therefore, to be ready for the Lord, awake, on our guard, is to be occupied now with the task which the Lord has given us.
Brother Lawrence, in his famous book The Practice of the Presence of God, makes it clear to us that each moment of each day God is to be found in the tasks to which he has called us. At the moment you are in this Church completing the weekly assignment the Lord has given us all to do: to worship him in and with the community of believers. Later on you will be back home and perhaps you will relax with members of the family and God will be there with you. Relaxing is very much a part of the ‘task’ God has given us to do.
The trick, of course, is knowing when and where we should be at any particular time of the day. This may require a bit of serious prayerful reflection. Occasionally I have seen young mothers at morning Mass and wondered who is looking after the children as they prepare for school. Sometimes those who are deeply involved in hobby activities have very untidy houses or feed their family a staple diet of takeaways. Others spend hours and hours occupied with one or other interesting pastime but have no time for helping out in the community.
It is not easy to be in the right ‘space’ at the right ‘time’. It requires honest, and sometimes courageous, discernment. And even when we get it right and find ourselves there, just where we should be, and at the right time, when we should not be somewhere else, we need to remember to do the what is required of us.
How many of us turn up to work on time but don’t do an honest day’s work? I find it easy enough to go to my prayer place every day at the time I should – but I don’t always find it easy to actually pray, especially when interesting distractions present themselves.
Every second of our life is pregnant with the possibility that the Lord will return. If there is anything we know about that moment it is that it will be unexpected. We must be ready. We must be at our employment. And if he arrives at 2am, hopefully he will find us fast asleep – on our guard, staying awake.
But as for the servant who says to himself, "My master is taking his time coming", and sets about … eating and drinking and getting drunk, his master will come on a day he does not expect and at an hour he does not know. The master will cut him off and send him to the same fate as the unfaithful. (Luke 12:45-46)