Abbot Richard’s Gospel Reflection for the First Sunday of Advent

First Sunday of Advent – 27 November 2016

Gospel: Matthew 24:37-44

Stay awake and stand ready

Advent is the time for watching and waiting. Three times in today’s Gospel Jesus tells us to ‘stay awake’ or ‘stand ready’.  There are two aspects to this watching and waiting.  On the one hand, during Advent we are waiting and preparing for the coming of the Son of Man at Christmas and on the other hand we are watching are preparing for the coming of the Son of Man at the end of time – which we can understand as the end of our own time on earth or indeed the end of the world.

Jesus reminds us that back in Noah’s day people were eating and drinking and marrying and getting on with life without paying much attention to God and suddenly the flood came and swept everything away. Jesus comes to us in different ways, often suddenly and unexpectedly.  We need to be on the watch and be ready.  The coming of Jesus at Christmas, at the hour of our death, or at the end of the world, are particular and specific events, but he also comes to us in other ways – through people and events, often in small rather than big ways, and in ways that we might not expect – if we are not ready and watching there is a risk that we will miss him.

The ancient monastic practice of Vigils is very closely linked with the watching and waiting of Advent and with today’s Gospel passage. In the early hours of the morning, before dawn, the monks gather to watch and pray.  St Benedict takes a line from the Psalms “At midnight I will rise and thank you” (Ps 118:62) as one of his reasons for the early rising.  The office of Vigils can be considered as a way of putting into practice Jesus’ instruction to ‘stay awake’ and ‘stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect’.  By observing a time of quiet and prayer at the beginning of each day the monks prepare themselves for being open to the different comings of Christ.

Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year and just as we make New Year’s resolutions so at the beginning of Advent the liturgy, in the words of the prayer for the day, encourages us to ‘resolve to run forth to meet Christ with righteous deeds’. Advent is the time for preparing for the coming of the Son of Man at Christmas.  While the world around us seems to treat the time as an early celebration of the season of Christmas, we should be careful to remember that Advent is the time of anticipation and preparation, not the celebration.  So as we begin our Advent journey this year let us use the time of preparation well, so that we can be awake and ready when the Son of Man comes.

Fr Richard Purcell ocso