You, Lord, are our father; our redeemer you are named forever. Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear from you now? Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage. Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as they had not heard of from of old. No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him. Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways! Behold, you are angry, and 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. There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you; for you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt. Yet, O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you are the potter: we are all the work of your hands.(P) The word of the Lord.
Once again, O Lord of hosts, look down from heaven, and see; take care of this vine, and protect what your right hand has planted; the son of man whom you yourself made strong. (R)
May your help be with the man of your right hand, with the son of man whom you yourself made strong. Then we will no more withdraw from you; give us new life, and we will call upon your name. (R)
Brothers and sisters: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, and by Him you were called to fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.(P) The word of the Lord.
Jesus said to his disciples: "Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: "Watch!""(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
Once when a little boy came home from his first day of school, his mother asked him, "What did you learn in school today?" "Not much Mom, they want me back tomorrow," the boy replied coldly.
We are back to Advent, the season of preparation for Christ's birth, and with it we begin the walk through the liturgical year all over again. What is a "liturgical year"? Quite simply, a liturgical year is the Church's calendar for twelve months, comprising a cycle of public celebrations, prayers, and readings divided into six seasons: Advent, Christmas, Lent, the Triduum, Easter, and Ordinary Time. It begins with the first Sunday of Advent and concludes with the Feast of Christ the King and the thirty-fourth week of Ordinary Time.
After the Second Vatican Council in the late 1960s, the Church arranged scripture readings for Holy Mass on a two-year-cycle - Year 1 and Year II - for the weekdays in Ordinary Time, and a three-year cycle - Year A, B and C - for Sundays built around passages taken from the Old Testament for the first reading, from the letters of Paul or one of the other writings of the New Testament for the second reading and three synoptic Gospels - Matthew, Mark, and Luke - so that we will have the opportunity to hear most of the Bible over a three-year period. The Gospel of John does not have its own year; but it is interspersed throughout all the three years.
Last year was Year A and, so, for the entire year, you may recall that we focused mostly on the Gospel of Matthew for weekly reflections. The year ended last week with the parable of the sheep and the goats as a description and prediction of the judgment of all peoples. Jesus explained that, on the Day of Judgment, He would separate everyone into two groups, much like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats in his flock, and send the wicked to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life, Matthew (25:31-46).
Today, we commence Year B, and we will be reading the gospel of Mark on most Sundays of the year. As in previous years, we shall focus our attention on only one reading, specifically the Gospel of Mark. From a historical point of view, Mark's gospel was written the earliest, probably, shortly after the war between Rome and Judea in 66-70 AD, which culminated in the burning and destruction of the Temple that served as the centre of Judaism. Although there is no direct internal evidence of authorship, John Mark, one of the first believers in the early church, is traditionally held to be the author of the gospel.
In the Book of Acts, he is first mentioned as the son of a widow named Mary (Acts 12:12), whose house was being used as a place for believers to gather and pray. He is also said to have been a relative of Barnabas, who was one of the leaders of the church in Antioch, Colossians (4:10); a companion of Paul and Barnabas on one of their missionary journeys (Acts 13:13) and of Peter during the time when Peter spent his last years in Rome. Numerous documents from the early church leaders, such as Papias (A.D.140), Justin Martyr (A.D. 150), Irenaeus (A.D.185), Clement of Alexandria (A.D.195), all indicate that Mark was the writer of the second Gospel and Peter's interpreter.
Today's Gospel text is taken from chapter 13 of Mark's Gospel that immediately precedes Mark's account of Jesus' passion and death, Mark (13:33-37). It is one of the most difficult chapters in the New Testament for us to understand because it deals with ideas and predictions of the end of the times, an apocalypse. At the end and in response to His disciples' questions about the end of the age and the sign of His Second Coming, Jesus warned them to be alert, watchful and prepared because these things can occur at any time.
Writing the gospel during the time of conflicts and persecutions against Christians carried out primarily by Jews and Roman authorities which resulted in the death of Paul and other believers, Mark reminded the Christians of Jesus' injunction to be alert and awake for Christ's Second Coming for no one knows the appointed time. He knew that if an expected event did not happen as quickly as expected, people would stop doing the things they ought to do. Hence, He recalled Jesus' parable about a master who goes on a journey leaving his servants in charge of his house and, specifically assigning the duty of the gatekeeper to a man, commands him to be watchful, Mark (13:34-36). The servants do not know when the master will return and so must be prepared at all times. Mark spoke these things so that all Christians, despite the growing persecutions, will continue to live up to the demands of the Gospel until Christ's return.
What lessons can we learn from today's liturgy and the gospel?
Firstly, we learn that as we continue our spiritual journey with the Lord, and the Scriptures, we must start to read or hear the Bible all over again with fresh eyes, an open mind, and a humble heart. And we should not allow familiarity to show indifference or apathy to the Word of God. Most of us probably do not read or listen to the Word of God on most days of the week. At the most, we hear the Word of God only when we attend Mass on Sundays. To many of us, our interaction with the Word of God ends when we leave the church. Sometimes, we also tend to think that because we have heard or read the same stories many times, we know everything there is to know about Jesus and there isn't anything more or new to learn.
We should not think that we will be hearing the same thing, the same way as we did the last time. Although on the surface we might think and feel the same, underneath we do understand the texts differently and change our views as well. This is because the Bible is more than just a book of ancient history. The Lord said through the prophet Isaiah that His Word is powerful and effective; it will not return to Him empty; it will accomplish His desires and purposes, Isaiah (55:10-11). Yes. God's Word is alive and active and speaks to those who earnestly read or hear it. The same words may speak differently to me and to each of us, at different times. Besides, as time moves on, we are indeed different - we get older, hopefully wiser, and richer in experience; therefore, we experience changes occurring in our lives.
If you have not allowed God's Word to make the impact on your life, visualize the skillful hands of the divine Potter using it for good in your life. Let us pray as the prophet Isaiah did which we hear in the first reading today: "O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you are the potter: we are all the work of your hands", Isaiah (63:7)
Secondly, we learn that Advent is about more than our preparation for the Church's celebration of Christ's birth at Christmas. It is also about preparing ourselves for Christ's return in glory at the end of time. Hence, just as the disciples and the early Christians were, we should stand firm, keep praying and doing good works, and wait for Christ.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!