First Sunday of Advent – Waiting and Hoping
Beginning a new year often prompts us to take stock, to celebrate the events that have gone well, and to review those that haven’t gone so well, when we’ve been injured by others; or, worse, found ourselves becoming injurious to others, even if we didn’t intend to. And this sense of attention, of alertness, preparedness, is central to today’s gospel. Jesus tells us all to ‘stay awake’. Mark uses the same language ‘stay awake’ in the next chapter of his gospel, when he describes Jesus and his disciples in the garden of Gethsemane.
And, of course, the disciples fail. They fall asleep, and soon will fall away. They are not alert to God working in and through Jesus: at the Cross, it is the pagan centurion who affirms that Jesus ‘Truly was God’s Son’; and even after the Resurrection the women who witness the empty tomb ‘said nothing, because they were afraid’.
Like the first disciples, we, too, fail. Our disordered appetites leave us being tossed about in every wind like Isaiah’s dry leaves, and our shame at our failure to live up to the commitments we’ve assumed as disciples leaves us cowering in filthy clothing before the all-Holy God. Yet, Isaiah finishes by making the audacious claim that the people of Israel, and, by extension, ourselves, are God’s responsibility, His treasured possession, the work of His hands.
This is so, St Paul reminds us, because God has called us, poured out the gifts of His Spirit upon us, and joined us to his Son. God’s face does shine on us, if we will only recognise that, turn back to him, and seek forgiveness. Every year this season is given to us to renew our sense of what really is important, and to seek God’s gift of forgiveness, sacramentally or otherwise.