“Beware, keep alert….”
The opening and closing words of the gospel reading for the First Sunday of Advent (Mk 13:33-37) seem particularly timely this year, as many of us feel on edge. We live in particularly challenging times. Wars rage, with the impact at times felt locally. Food bank usage is up, while fewer and fewer people are able to find affordable housing. A surge in floods and forest fires and uncontrollable storms makes it impossible for us to deny the reality of global warming.
Therefore, the caution to be alert is almost ironic, coming as it does when so many of us are fearful of more bad news from around the world or lie awake at night because of local concerns, worried about everything from finances to our children’s futures. We are alert to issues in ways we may never have anticipated, and many of us would simply like to be able to relax a bit.
But the notion of being alert in Advent is a concept that should foster hope, not fear, because it is a calling to be mindful of the coming of the Christ child into our lives. That presence exists in many ways, whether it’s Jesus as eternal saviour entering into human history and living on earth as our redeemer, or the coming of Christ into our lives daily, whether through the reception of the sacraments or in encounters with our neighbours, or, finally, the coming of Christ into our lives at the end of time.
The constant presence of Christ in our lives, no matter how dark the days of early December may feel, should give us hope and inspire us to move forward, no matter how wary we might be. If we have the promise of redemption held out to us, we should become people motivated by gratitude, good will and abiding hope. Rather than pessimists, we should become optimists, knowing better days are ahead.
It is certainly noteworthy that Christ’s time on earth was marked by challenges. Before he was even born, his mother faced the risk out becoming a public outcast because of her pregnancy. Mary and Joseph faced persecution, and the challenge of having nowhere to stay, with Jesus born into the humblest of circumstances. Political upheaval made them migrants, and they lived a modest life.
In other words, the Holy Family faced many of the challenges that many of the people who interact with the member agencies of Catholic Charities today face – and that should be a powerful reminder to all of us to set judgment aside and replace it with a desire to help. We encounter Christ not only in Mass, not only in prayer, but every day we engage with the world and its inhabitants.
As the gospel says, “Beware, keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come.” That’s a reminder not only of our own mortality and readiness for death, but also for the unexpected encounters we have in small ways. It reminds us to acknowledge that a small child in a stable in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago continues to change lives and offer us hope, and that we are called to be party of that change, models of that hope.
Therefore, be alert!