A blessed new liturgical year to all! Since the current calendar year has been marked by a catastrophic pandemic, our hearts are bursting with a most hopeful anticipation of a new and better future. Hopeful anticipation is what the season of Advent is all about. In some places, the first violet candle of the Advent wreath, to be lit today, is associated with the theme of hope. The beginning of the new year and the readings for today move us to explore this virtue of hope more deeply.
Our Advent longing for a new beginning is well expressed in today’s Psalm. We plead that the Lord will make our hearts turn to him: “Let us see your face and we shall be saved.” When will we see the face of the Lord? We do not know. So in today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us – with exclamation points! – to be watchful and to be alert. The reason for these imperatives is that we do not know the time when he will come. We will focus our pondering today on these three points: watch, alert and time.
In this short Gospel passage, the word watchful or watch appears four times. Jesus uses the analogy of servants who are left in charge of the house while the owner is away. The clear instruction is that we are like those servants, and we should watch for the unpredictable return of the owner, the Lord.
The first reading reminds us that our watchfulness is not only outward, toward the One who is to come, but also inward, toward the condition of our hearts. The One whom we await is not simply our boss but God our Creator. In relation to him, we are mere clay and he is the Potter. The biblical account of creation portrays God forming man from the dust of the earth and breathing life into him (cf. Gen 2:7). Our very existence depends entirely on God’s gracious gift to us. However, Isaiah shows that God looks on us not as a potter looks at clay but as a father looks at his children. The first and last lines of today’s reading identify God as our Father: “You, Lord are our Father.” Between these two bookends we find a description of ourselves. We have not been dutiful children of a caring and loving Father, but instead have wandered off and withered up in sin.
This shows us something that we must be watchful for, our tendency to sin. In the span of life that God has entrusted to us, we are to watch out for whatever renders us unclean, whatever turns all our good deeds into polluted rags. Watchfulness is living uprightly in every moment of the precious life that God has breathed into us. Watchfulness also opens the eyes of our hearts to God’s presence in the vicissitudes of life, so that we can perceive him doing awesome deeds on behalf of his beloved children.
The second point, alertness, is closely related. Watchfulness is being on guard, while alertness is being awake. Jesus’ exhortation to “be alert” finds support in today’s second reading. St. Paul speaks about what makes it possible for us to stand firm in faith as we “wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is Christ himself, who by his grace keeps us “firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We are not left on our own, trying to keep ourselves spiritually awake; no, alertness comes with the grace of God bestowed on us in Christ Jesus. In him, we are “not lacking in any spiritual gift.”
Interestingly, the word watch, so frequently used in today’s Gospel, also refers to an instrument that tells time. Time is a third point to ponder as we begin the new year. There are two Greek words for time used in the New Testament: chronos, chronological or historical time (what we measure with a watch), and kairos, opportune time. According to our usual way of speaking, time is chronos. For example, we say that this new season of Advent will last twenty-seven days. But God is not bound by chronos. For him, time is kairos; it is always now, always the opportune moment for action and for love. As we live out Christ’s call for us to be watchful and alert, we do well to see Advent as kairos for us, our opportune time, our “today.” This is the day the Lord has made; if today we hear his voice, let us not harden our hearts, but instead remain ready to welcome him with joy.
In what ways will I explore the virtue of hope during this Advent? How will I strive this Advent to be more watchful and alert about my tendency to sin? Do I harden my heart when I hear Jesus’ voice instead of welcoming him with joy?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 1. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.