The overriding theme of the first Sunday of Advent is that of hopeful vigilance. In the first reading, Isaiah describes his vision of a scene not of this world and of a future not marked on the calendar. St. Paul, in the second reading urges us to wake from sleep and to cast off the deeds of darkness, for our salvation is closer than we think. Finally, Jesus, in the Gospel, reminds us of what happened before the flood, saying that if it is foolish to try to determine the date of His coming, it is also foolish to lose sight of it. Stay awake, therefore. You cannot know the day your Lord is coming! The suddenness and unpredictability of His coming is disturbing. We who like to pin things down to a certain date find this is hard to accept. Remember the apocalyptic fever that gripped many and the dire warnings some doomsayers issued at the arrival of the millennium? Now, since September 11, we have a sharpened understanding of what “vigilance”means. It is hard for us to hope for more than our own personal future or the future of the world of which we are a part. Yet Advent calls us to a hope that goes beyond self-centeredness. This world is passing away, and we and our world have an unimaginable destiny. As Isaiah tells us, The mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and ALL nations shall stream toward it… This overall success of a universal gathering embracing all nations can broaden our perspective. Isaiah adds, one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again. What a beautiful message for us to hear today! The responsorial psalm continues Isaiah’s positive tone: I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’ One commentator said the Western Church emphasized the particular judgment so much in the past that we lost sight of the social aspect of the last day. Without forgetting our responsibility to prepare for our personal meeting with the Lord, Advent calls us to expand our vision and see our responsibility to reconstruct all of creation, to rebuild the world for the Lord’s coming. The South American theologian Leonardo Boff puts it this way: The reign of God, the eschatological liberation of the world, is already in process, is already being established. It takes shape in concrete modifications of actual life. Truly, one of the concrete modifications in our lives since the tragedy in New York seemed, initially, to be the uniting of all nations. Even in our own country the sudden surge of patriotism caused one rabbi to remark, Our United States has become a re-united States of America. What about us? Is our vigilance filled with anxiety or hope? Or, to get down to the more practical aspects of St. Paul’s admonition, what are the deeds of darkness we need to put off? How about anxiety? Or negativity? As a champion worrier, I can attest to the fact that my worrying has never accomplished anything but higher blood pressure readings. And my guess is that talking about whatever worried me did nothing to generate a more hopeful attitude in others who might have been anxious about the same thing. Are we positive in our thinking and speech or does our demeanor and conversation betray us? To suggest that we be more positively vigilant is not to be Pollyannaish. Vigilance is not a vague disposition of spirit. It is an active force, prompting us to act with full consciousness, assuming our daily responsibilities with the conviction that we will not be surprised when Jesus comes. For is not Jesus Himself the object of our hope? He has already saved the world and at some point in our lives He captured our hearts enough for us to commit ourselves to Him totally. Though not fully manifested, the kingdom is already present in His person: His life, death and resurrection. Paradoxically, we wait for what we already possess. Our liturgy and sacraments, only signs of what is yet to come, will someday disappear. The coming of the Lord will be a triumph of light over darkness so we can be ready always but without anxiety. As persons of faith our watchfulness can be full of hope and Advent is meant to make this hope come alive and grow strong in us. In our difficulties, then, let us act as if we were living in broad daylight! This vigil of the first Sunday of Advent is the time for us to begin our hopeful vigilance:
COME, LET US WALK IN THE LIGHT OF THE LORD!
—Sister Mary E. Penrose
|Sister Mary E. Penrose is a Sister of St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth, Minnesota. She edits readings for the liturgical Hours and writes reflections for the Community. And she is a tutor for the African Sisters attending The College of St. Scholastica. She was editor of a journal, Spirit & Life, for 18 years. Read all of Sister Mary E.’s reflections.|