A reflection for the First Sunday of Advent

Bishop John Stowe, O.F.M. reflects on the readings for November 29, 2020.
Catholic Voices

Readings (Year B)

Isa. 63:16B–17, 19B; 64:2–7
Ps. 80:2–3, 15–16, 18–19
1 Cor. 1:3–9
Mark 13:33–37

Reflection: Worth the wait

There is a certain starkness to the gospel passage for the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the new church year. More than the mere economy of words and focus on action that characterizes the Gospel of Mark; “be watchful and be alert” seems so far removed from “Deck the Halls” and dreams of a white Christmas.

We hear this admonition as an echo of the theme of the parables of recent Sundays: The end is coming, and we don’t know the day or the hour. We are told once again to be alert and to wait. But waiting is so hard for us who are used to having everything available now: gigabytes of data at our fingertips, same day delivery for our urgent order products, reaction to every news event in real time. . . . From an early age we cry out, “are we there yet?” on car journeys, and the days of Advent seem interminable when opening just one little window a day on an Advent calendar counting down to the night before Christmas.

God’s word on this First Sunday of Advent suggests that we are waiting for more than Christmas. We are waiting for the Day of the Lord. We are waiting for God to set things straight. We are waiting for God to clean up the messes we have made and to demonstrate what love and mercy are really like.


The prophet Isaiah, whose dreams and longings provide inspiration to us in this season of anticipation, seems to tell God to “hurry up” and get down here—he even blames God for what we have done. “How could you let this happen God? Why did you let us wander from your ways?” You seem far away, he implies. “You, the potter, made us after all . . . we are the work of your hands.”

Imagine what this waiting might be like if you were one of the thousands of families living in tents at the northern border of Mexico while awaiting a hearing about your need for asylum. Imagine what this waiting is like for the person expecting news about the possibility of a parole hearing or that their false conviction has been overturned. Imagine the waiting of a parent who has seen their child enter another drug rehabilitation hoping that this time it will work. These are not visions of dancing sugarplums, but it is the kind of waiting that Isaiah and Jesus describe.

It is Paul today who expresses the hope of this season—the joyful anticipation. He reminds us that despite being in the midst of a global pandemic, despite the polarization that the human family continues to experience, despite the messes that we can manage to make, God is faithful! God will keep us firm to the end. God has given it all to us, because God made us brothers and sisters in his Son, Christ Jesus.

With Isaiah, we can cry out, “tear open those clouds and get down here.” We know that God will, and that is worth the wait.

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