As one liturgical year ends and another begins, the Lectionary seems to strike a redundant note.
On Saturday—the final day of the year—we hear this exhortation from Jesus in the reading from St. Luke’s gospel:
‘Be vigilant at all times
and pray that you have the strength
to escape the tribulations that are imminent…’
Not exactly a comforting thought. In fact, I found myself empathizing a bit with the prophet we encountered in the first reading:
I, Daniel, found my spirit anguished within its covering of flesh,
and I was terrified by the visions of my mind.
On Sunday—as Advent (and a brand-spanking-new church year) begins—it’s St. Mark’s turn to raise the alarm:
Jesus said to his disciples:
‘Be watchful! Be alert!
You do not know when the time will come…’
Reflecting on these apocalyptic refrains, I notice where they first tend to lead my mind and heart. I stride full-bore into ‘fix-it mode,’ echoing the cries of both the prophet Isaiah and the Psalmist:
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…
…take care of this vine,
and protect what your right hand has planted
the son of man whom you yourself made strong.
I want God’s help, to preserve what I consider mine. I call on God’s power, to repair all that I consider wrong in the world.
Then it occurs to me to take a closer look at the Gift our hearts are preparing for each Advent: A God whose instinct is not to preserve, but to empty himself. A mighty God, who surrenders power…in order to be laid, helpless, in a manger.
As I contemplate this Gift, I realize that I still have so very much to learn about this God-With-Us.
Perhaps I need these exhortations to be watchful—redundant warnings, both coming and going—precisely so that my assumptions don’t blind me to a profound mystery. What if this kingdom Christ seeks to establish is not at all what I expect? Am I ready for that possibility? Will I even see it when it comes?
But fretting is not the answer, as St. Paul assures us in Sunday’s second reading from 1 Corinithians:
…you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Not fretting, but firm.
Now there’s an Advent blessing worthy of the season. A blessing that can fill our hearts with hope.
Come, Lord Jesus!
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.