Advent 1 B - Reflections


From Fr. Tony Kadavil's Collection: 

Readings

First Reading: Isaiah 63: 16-17, 19; 64: 2-7
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1: 3-9
Gospel: Mark 13: 33-37 

Introduction 

The common theme of today’s readings is that vigilant service prepares us for the coming of Christ as our savior during Christmas and as our judge and Lord at the end of the world.  The reason why the liturgical year ends and begins with the same theme is clear: if we have already embraced Jesus in his first coming, we will have no fear of his second coming.  Advent is the season of special preparation and expectation for the coming of Christ.  It encourages us to examine our lives, to reflect on our need for God to enter our lives and to prepare earnestly for, and eagerly await the coming of Christ. He will come to us in the celebration of the Incarnation, in His continual coming in our daily living and in His final coming as our Lord to judge us all and to renew the Father’s creation.  Using apocalyptic images, the gospel urges the elect to be alert for the return of Christ because no one except the Father knows the day or the hour of the Lord’s return. Jesus summarizes the complexities of Christian living in two imperatives: "Take heed!" (Be on guard) and "Watch!" (Be alert, stay awake, and don’t grow careless). Our life on earth is to be one of productive service uninfluenced by a supervisor's presence or seeming absence. 
First reading, Isaiah 63:16-17, 19; 64:2-7:  

Around 600 BC, the Babylonians took the Jews out of the Promised Land and kept them in exile (the Babylonian Captivity) for about 60 years.  When Cyrus, the Persian emperor, took over Babylon, he sent the Jews home.  This reading is set in that troubled period when Judah was trying to put itself back together after returning from Exile.  To get the flavor of it, imagine how a contemporary family might feel when they return to a fire-damaged or hurricane-destroyed or flood-damaged home.  The reading contains a pathetic mix of feelings: guilt and outrage at God alternating with praise of God, humility, anguish and hope. Isaiah expressed the hope of Israel for a powerful manifestation of God in their midst. "Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you.” The prophet hoped that if God would come into their midst, the people could be faithful to Him. Acknowledging the fact that the people were unfaithful, Isaiah asked for God’s forgiveness and acceptance: "You, O Lord, are our father; we are the clay and you are the potter: we are all the work of your hands."  In other words, we're not perfect, but we are totally God’s to shape.  Here Isaiah was not anticipating Jesus’ arrival when he asked God “... to rend the heavens and come down ...!  He was simply pleading with Yahweh to force those Israelites who had recently returned from the Babylonian Exile to do what was necessary to allow God to be present and active in their lives.  Isaiah was praying to Yahweh on behalf of the Israelites, “Would that You might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways.”  He begged Yahweh, the Father of the Chosen People, for mercy.  This prayer was answered when the Son of God became man in the Incarnation. 

Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9:  

We wait for Christ in two ways. The early Sundays of Advent teach the end-of-the-world theme. In this context, we wait for Christ to come again in glory, to judge the living and the dead. The later Sundays of Advent celebrate a different theme: the coming of the Messiah in the flesh. Today’s second reading, taken from the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians and written from Ephesus in 57 A.D., begins with a greeting and a thanksgiving prayer. The letter is Paul's answer to reports concerning disputes and difficulties in Corinth which had reached him. It was written while he and his audience were still sure that Christ's second coming was just around the corner. Like all early Christians, the Apostle used the phrase “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” as another way to speak about Jesus’Parousia — his Second Coming at the end of the world. Paul reminded the Corinthians that they were not ready to face the Day of the Lord because they were misusing the gifts of the Holy Spirit. After describing the special gifts of the Holy Spirit they had received, Paul reminded the Corinthians that they were using their gifts in the wrong way. Christ's favor, the speech and knowledge they possessed, the spiritual gifts in which they gloried -- all were useless unless used for the good of the community. In fact, many of Paul's converts had been using their gifts to destroy the community instead of building it up. What should have been an asset, had become a detriment. Paul could only pray for the eventual conversion of his community. "He (Jesus) will strengthen you to the end," the Apostle writes, "so that you will be blameless on the day of Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, and it was He who called you to fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." 

Today’s gospel is the conclusion of a speech found in Mark 13, in which Jesus predicts his Second Coming (Parousia), at the end of time or at the end of the world. Ten years after Paul’s death, Mark reminded his community in Rome of Jesus’ words,“Be constantly on the watch! Stay awake! You do not know when the appointed time will come.” The evangelist knew that if an expected event didn’t happen as quickly as expected, people would stop doing the things they ought to do.  Hence, Mark reminded them of Jesus’ parable about the gate-keeper in the house of a traveling master. Since the master was traveling, his servant must be constantly alert, “at dusk, at midnight, when the cock crows, or at early dawn.” There was always a fear that the master would come home “suddenly and catch you asleep.” In such situations one must constantly, “be on guard!” When Paul and Mark spoke about the things to come, it was only to remind their readers that their present behavior wasn’t measuring up to what Christ’s second coming demanded. 

Exegesis

 Context 

The gospel of Mark was probably written at a time when the Romans had swept through upper Galilee to suppress a Galilean revolution.  This region was where Mark's Judeo-Christian community lived. This community was besieged by three hostile forces, all of which demanded loyalty from the followers of Jesus as former Jews.  Since Palestine was the breadbasket of the Empire, the Romans controlled it through military might and local alliances.  The high priests and their minions collaborated with the Romans and imposed their own oppressive burden of regulations and Temple taxes.  Armed Jewish nationalists had seized the Temple by force and wanted to expel the Romans from the region. At the time Mark wrote his gospel, the Roman legions were poised to destroy the Temple and all ofJerusalem with it, once and for all, and thus end the Jewish nation as it had existed before. Hence, Mark reminded the Christian community to be alert and awake for Christ’s second coming, recalling Jesus’ parable about the gate-keeper. 

The background of the parable: Absentee land-owners and wayfaring masters were a common thing in Jesus' time. The owners of large properties often lived elsewhere, leaving servants in charge of caring for and carrying on business as if the owners were still present. This kind of situation would be a test for the servants left in charge. Would they be faithful day by day, or would they wait until they heard the master was about to return and then quickly get things in order? The trouble was that often they didn’t know when the land-owner would return. The absence of the master was a test.  

The need for Christian alertness: Jesus illustrates the need for alertness and readiness by comparing the situation of his followers to that of a gate-keeper in a house when the owner was out of the country.  Since the gate-keeper did not know when the owner of the house would return, "in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning," he must always be ready if he did not want the owner to find him asleep.  In the same way, there is no reason for Christ's followers to be fearful, provided we are ready every day for Jesus' return.  If we are awake and ready, the coming of the Son of Man is an event to be greeted with joy. Thus our whole life should be a preparation to meet the master. 

The work to be completed: Like the parents who trust their teenagers to look after the house while they are away, or like the teacher who leaves the classroom after giving her students plenty of work to do, Jesus trusts us to carry out his work until he returns. There is the work of witnessing to Jesus in our daily lives. There is the work to be done in our families, our schools, our local churches and our community. There is the work of caring for those who are hurting and have needs.  There is the work of guiding and leading others, pointing people to the comforting message of the Gospel. There is the work of living "lives holy and dedicated to God,” “doing our best to be pure and faultless in God's sight and to be at peace with him". 

Being a responsible servant: This passage reminds us also that we should not be so foolish as to forget God and become immersed in worldly matters. Using Christ’s parable, the Church reminds us of the alertness and preparation needed for the four-fold  coming of Jesus into our lives, namely: at the  celebration of His incarnation during this Christmas season,  in His active presence  in our daily lives, at the moment of our death, and in his final coming in glory at the end of the world. 

Life messages : 

1) An Advent project of being alert and watchful in the spirit of today’s gospel.  Every morning when we get up, let us pray, “Lord, show me someone today with whom I may share your love, mercy and forgiveness.”  Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, "Whatever you do in your family, for your children, for your husband, for your wife, you do for Jesus."  Every night when we go to bed, let us ask ourselves, “Where have I found Christ today?”  The answer will be God’s Advent gift to us that day. By being alert and watchful we will receive an extra gift:  Christ himself.  Let us remember the saying of St. Thomas Aquinas: "Without God, I can't.  Without me, He won't."   

2) Being wakeful and watchful: We are so future-oriented that we often forget the present entirely.  We spend too much time trying to protect ourselves against future misfortunes.  We save for a rainy day, to get married, to buy a home, to send the children to college, to retire in comfort and to protect ourselves against future misfortunes.  But we need to be more spiritually wakeful and prepare for our eternal life because we can die any day, and that is the end of the world for us.  Let this advent season be the time of such a preparation for us.  

3: “Maranatha” (Rev. 22: 20) is an Aramaic (Syriac) expression that means: “Come, Lord Jesus.”   It was used as a greeting in the early church. When believers gathered or parted, they didn’t say hello or goodbye, but “Maranatha!” If we had the same spiritual outlook today, it would revolutionize the church and the lives of its members during this advent season. 

Anecdotes 

1) End time Paranoia: In A.D. 204, Hippolytus, a Christian writer in Rome, recorded that a bishop was convinced that the Lord was going to return immediately. He urged his followers to sell all of their land and possessions and to follow him into the wilderness to await the Lord’s coming. At the end of the first millennium, anticipation of the Second Coming ran high. On the last day of 999, the basilica of St. Peter’s at Rome was filled with people who were weeping and trembling as they expected the world to end. It was in 1978 that the media flashed the shocking news of the mass suicide of 914 men and women from the U.S.A., belonging to a doomsday cult called The Peoples Temple, in Jonestown, Guyana at the instruction of their paranoid leader Rev. Warren (Jim) Jones. In 1988, Rev. Colin Deal published a book titled Christ Returns by 1988 – 101 Reasons Why.  In the same year, EdgarWhisenant, a NASA engineer used his mathematical skills to set a date for the return of Jesus. He wrote a book called, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Take Place in 1988. Another very popular book, published in 1989, was 89 Reasons Why the World will End in 1989.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses have frightened gullible followers at least three times during the last century with their “end of the world” predictions.  The film Omega Code, released in October 1999, was an independent movie funded by the Trinity Broadcasting Network, the largest Evangelical Christian TV network in theU.S., and promoted by a team of 2,400 U.S. Evangelical pastors.  The plot involved the portrayal of the “rapture,” when “born again” and "saved" Christians, both alive and dead, will, it is claimed, fly upwards in the air to meet Jesus on his Second Coming.  It was rated in the top 10 highest-grossing movies for October 1999. It was in March 1997, that 39 members (21 women and 18 men, ranging in age from 26 to 72),of a California cult called Heaven’s Gate, headed by Marshall Applewhite, exploded onto the national scene with their mass suicide in a luxurious mansion at Rancho Santa Fe near San Diego in California. This was their preparation for being safely transported to heaven by a UFO, thus avoiding the tribulations accompanying the immediate end of the world. It was in 1995 that the landmark apocalyptic thriller, Left Behind (a series of 12 novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins -- Left Behind, Tribulation Force, Nicolae, Soul Harvest, Apollyon, Assassins, The Indwelling, The Mark, Desecration, The Remnant, Armageddon, and Glorious Appearing) began hitting Christian bookstores. Since then, the Left Behind series and its related books have sold over 62 million copies, generating 650 million dollars in sales. Three more books in the series are expected. In October, 2005, a big budget film, Left Behind, based on this novel series, was released for showing in all Evangelical Christian parishes.  This is how modern man reacts to the coming end of the world.  Today’s readings remind us that along with our special spiritual preparation for Christmas, we should be  prepared and  ready  to meet Jesus at all times, whether at the end of our lives or the end  of the world, which ever comes first.

 2) “You may judge my ability as a salesman”: Years ago, when 20th Century Fox advertised in the New York papers to fill a vacancy in its sales force, one applicant replied: "I am at present selling furniture at the address below. You may judge my ability as a salesman if you will stop in to see me at anytime, pretending that you are interested in buying furniture. When you come in, you can identify me by my red hair. And I should have no way of identifying you. Such salesmanship as I exhibit during your visit, therefore, will be no more than my usual workday approach and not a special effort to impress a prospective employer." From among more than 1500 applicants, this guy got the job. Jesus wants us to be ready like that man. We don’t know when He’s coming back, so we should be prepared all the time. 

Additional Anecdotes 

1) "Ready or not -- here I come!" When you were a child, did you play the game, Hide and Seek? If you did, you will remember that the person who was "it" closed his eyes while the rest went to hide. To give them time to hide, the child started counting: 5, 10, 15, 20 and up to 100. Then he would say, "Ready or not, here I come!" The point of the game was to hide oneself so well that the leader could not find you, for if he found you, and beat you back to the goal, you had to be "it" the next go-around. The secret of the game was preparing oneself against being found and caught. With excitement we heard the words, "Ready or not -- here I come!" In today's gospel lesson Jesus is saying to the world, "Ready or not -- here I come." In chapter 13 of Mark, Jesus tells us that he will be returning to the earth "with great power and glory." As in the game, only this is not a game, there is a counting and an accounting going on right now. It is a countdown before the blast of his appearance on earth a second time to judge the world and to gather his faithful to himself. 

2) "Today, sir, today." Some years ago a tourist visited the Castle Villa Asconti on the shores of Lake Como in northern Italy. Only the old gardener opened the gates, and the visitor stepped into the garden, which was perfectly kept. The visitor asked when the owner was last there. He was told, "Twelve years ago." Did he ever write? No. Where did he get instructions? From his agent in Milan. Does the master ever come? No. "But, you keep the grounds as though your master were coming back tomorrow." The old gardener quickly replied, "Today, sir, today." A Christian watches and works as though the Master would return this very day. 

3) "Give God a chance to help; wait three days." It was the day after Easter. The pastor paused for a moment at the top of the steps leading from his church to the avenue, now crowded with people rushing to their jobs. Sitting in her usual place inside a small archway was the old flower lady. At her feet corsages and boutonnieres were spread out on a newspaper. The flower lady was smiling, her wrinkled face alive with joy. The pastor started down the stairs, then on an impulse turned and picked out a flower. As he put it in his lapel, he said, "You look happy this morning." "Why not? Everything is good." she answered. She was dressed so shabbily and seemed so very old that her reply startled him. "No troubles?" he responded. "You can't reach my age and not have troubles," she replied. "Only it's like Jesus and Good Friday." She paused for a moment. 

"Yes?" prompted the pastor. "Well, when Jesus was crucified on Good Friday, that was the worst day for the whole world. And when I get troubles, I remember that. And then I think what happened only three days later: Easter and our Lord arising. So when I get troubles, I've learned to wait three days and somehow everything gets all right again." And she smiled goodbye.

 The old flower lady's advice would help many of us: "Give God a chance to help; wait three days." (Patt Barnes in Guideposts) "Wait on the Lord," wrote the psalmist, "be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart...."(27:14). The word wait appears 106 times in the Scriptures. Sometimes there is nothing else we can do. Like the early church, we can only wait, watch, and work.

4) Baby Jesus with a GPS: It always feels strange beginning Advent in November. But the stores are already decorated for Christmas, so why not? I hope the department stores won’t think we’re trying to spoil their party by injecting a little religion into this busy season of the year. It reminds me of an item that appeared in USA Today last year about this time. Authorities in Bal Harbor, FL outfitted the baby Jesus in their outdoor Nativity Scene with a GPS locator as a protection against thieves. The previous Baby Jesus was stolen even though it had been bolted down. “I don’t anticipate this will ever happen again,” said Dina Cellini, who oversees the display, “but we may need to rely on technology to save our Savior. The Mary and Joseph statues will also be outfitted with GPS.” (1.12 24 07, p. 3A. Contributed by Dr. John Bardsley) Interesting! Somebody stole the baby Jesus. I’m not surprised. They’ve already stolen Christmas. I’m exaggerating, of course. Still, I’m thankful you are here today as we seek to reflect on the meaning of Christ’s coming into the world. 

5) Get ready. : John Phillips, in his book Exploring Revelation, tells about the return of Richard I, the Lionhearted, to England. It was during the time of the crusades. While Richard was away doing battle in the Middle East, his kingdom fell on bad times. His brother, Prince John, justly vilified in the tales of Robin Hood, usurped the kingship and misruled the realm. The people of England suffered under John’s rule and longed for the return of their rightful king. They prayed that it might be soon. Then one day Richard returned. He landed in England and marched straight for his throne. John’s castles tumbled before Richard like ninepins. Richard the Lionhearted laid claim to his throne, and none dared stand in his path. The people shouted their delight. They rang peal after peal on the bells. The Lion was back! Long live the king! John Phillips adds these hopeful words: “One day a King greater than Richard will lay claim to a realm greater than England. Those who have abused the earth in His absence, seized His domains, and mismanaged His world will all be swept aside.” (http://www.sermonnotebook.org/revelation/Revelation%201_4 8.htm. ) That day’s coming, friends, and it will be a grand and glorious day. Get ready. No one knows when it will be. But get ready. No one knows what shape it will take, but we know this: God’s in charge and God can be trusted. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” 

6)  "Gee, I guess I just wasn't ready." There's an amusing commercial on television in which a man is about to let go of his bowling ball as he eyes the pins at the end of the lane. Just as he is ready to release the ball, he gets lifted out of himself by two men in sparkling white suits and goes walking off across the lanes, through the walls of the building and onto a staircase surrounded by clouds. At first he doesn't understand what in the world is going on but then it suddenly dawns on him. He has just died. He looks at the two white-suited men at his side and asks in disbelief, "Are you sure it was supposed to be me? I was working on a string of strikes!" Convinced there was no mistake, he goes off reluctantly and shrugs, "Gee, I guess I just wasn't ready." The point of the commercial is that one has to be ready all the time and for the sponsor that means having insurance, a "piece-of-the-rock." That's the way to be ready. 

7) AS 2025: The World Future Society released their forecasts for the next 25 years a few months ago and some of those forecasts were upbeat. For example these futurists predict that by the year 2025 the world will have a billion millionaires. That’s a lot of wealthy people. I hope you’re one of them. They also forecast a new process to remove salt from seawater and make it drinkable at a much lower cost than thought possible. They predict drastic improvements in artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, nanotechnology and robotics. These advances will improve every aspect of our lives. But they also report that the threat of another cold war with China, Russia, or both could replace terrorism as the chief foreign-policy concern of the United States. Scenarios for what a war with China or Russia would look like make the clashes and wars in which the United States is now involved seem insignificant. Also of deep concern is climate change with the disappearance of much of our bio-diversity, widespread flooding and water replacing oil as the most precious commodity on earth. (futuristupdate@wfs.org )How much of this will occur? No one knows. But here’s what we do know. The God who sent a tiny babe 2,000 years ago to redeem our world is the same God who holds the future. 

8) “Misha, you can come and be in my family and live in my home.’” On one occasion this missionary couple was teaching the children about Christmas. They told them all about Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and wise men, and about the baby Jesus. They told them all about the stable, and the manger, and the star in the sky. They told them all about God’s love for the world embodied in the birth of Jesus. And after teaching the children the Christmas story, this couple invited them to draw some pictures of the manger scene. All of the pictures were wonderful! But one in particular caught their attention. It was drawn by a little boy named Misha. And what made Misha’s drawing distinctive was that there were, not one, but two babies lying in the manger. “Misha, what a wonderful picture!” said the woman missionary. “But who is the other baby in the manger with the baby Jesus?” Misha looked up with a lovely expression on his face. “The other baby is Misha,” he smiled. “Oh? How is it that you added yourself to the manger scene?” she asked. And this is what Misha said. “When I was drawing the picture of the baby Jesus, Jesus looked at me and said, ‘Misha, where is YOUR family?’ I said to Jesus, ‘I have no family.’ Then Jesus said to me, ‘Misha, where is your home?’ And I said to Jesus, ‘I have no home.’ And then Jesus said to me, ‘Misha, you can come and be in my family and live in my home.’”

(http://www.tellicochurch.org/Year%20B%20Sermons/ 021224.html.) ) That’s a lovely story, and we are so thankful that Misha was introduced to Jesus. But do you understand that two thousand years after the coming of Christ, millions of children come from situations like Misha’s? They are still awaiting a Savior. You’ll find them in the former Soviet Union. You’ll find them in Afghanistan. You’ll find them in Africa. You’ll find them in the gang-ridden neighborhoods of our inner cities. You’ll find them right here in our own community. Of course, it is our responsibility to reach out to these little ones, to show them the love of Jesus, but the truth of the matter is that, for the most part, they are forgotten this Advent season. 

9) Anti-Christs: The scriptures provide us with very few details about the nature of Christ’s return, and much of what we do have is written in a kind of code that can be widely interpreted, or misinterpreted as the case may be. For example, did you know that Ronald Reagan was the anti-Christ? Ronald Wilson Reagan six letters in each of his names, 666. What more evidence do you need? At one time the website of the PBS show Frontline carried a list of prominent figures who have been labeled the anti-Christ at one time or the other. Some are quite predictable, ranging from Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein to former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev, because of the strange mark on his forehead that some said was the mark of the beast. But how about Reagan? And how about John F. Kennedy? Kennedy was there because he received 666 votes at the 1956 Democratic Convention and a head wound killed him. Bill Gates was there because he would enslave the world through computers and even the old folk singer Pete Seeger was there, though we are not told why http://bloomingcactus.typepad.com/bloomingcactus/2005/11/mark_132437_kee.html. ) But surely none of these is the anti-Christ. The parts of the Bible that foretell the end of time, the apocalyptic literature as it is called by scholars is written in a kind of code and is open to much interpretation. And, obviously, it is all pre-space age imagery. 

10) “But it’s steady work.” Leo Rosten tells an amusing story that comes out of the Jewish tradition. There was a man in a small Russian village who, because of a disabling condition, could not find employment. The community council wanted to help him but they also wanted to protect his pride. They decided to give him a job. They paid him two rubles a week to sit at the town’s entrance and be the first to greet the Messiah when he arrives. “Just sit on the hill outside our village every day from dawn to sunset,” they tell him. “You will be our watchman for the approach of the Messiah. And when you see him, run back to the village as fast as you can, shouting, ‘The Messiah! The Messiah! He is coming!’” The man’s face lit up just thinking of the glory of his new position. Every morning he greeted the dawn from the hill and not until sunset every day, did he leave his treasured post. A year went by, and a traveler, approaching the village, noticed the figure sitting on a hill. “Sholem,” called the traveler. “What are you doing here?” “I am waiting for the Messiah!” the man replied. “It’s my job.” The traveler was somewhat amused. “How do you like this job?” he asked, suppressing a smile. “Frankly, it doesn’t pay much,” said the poor man, “but it’s steady work.” [Leo Rosten, The Joys of Yinglish (New York: McGraw Hill Publishing Company, 1992).] That would be steady work if you did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, twenty-five hundred years of waiting and watching for the coming of the Lord. 

11) “I’m two hours late, and you’re still not ready?”  Margaret was all ready for her date. She was wearing her best outfit, her hair was fixed, her makeup was perfect. Imagine her disappointment when her date didn’t show up! After an hour of waiting, Margaret decided that he wasn’t going to come. She changed into her pajamas, washed off her makeup, gathered up a bunch of junk food, and parked herself in front of the television for the evening. As soon as she got involved in her favorite show, there was a knock on the door. She opened it to find her handsome date standing on the doorstep. He stared at her in shock, then said in disbelief, “I’m two hours late, and you’re still not ready?” (Steve Barry, “Life in these United States,” Reader’s Digest, Oct. 1992, p. 82. Contributed by Dr. John Bardsley.) Of course, our Jewish friends have spent hundreds, even thousands of years waiting to celebrate the coming of the Messiah. In fact, they’re still waiting. 

12) Wesley, Luther and gardener: Once John Wesley was asked what he would do if he knew this was his last day on earth. He replied, "At 4 o'clock I would have some tea. At 6 I would visit Mrs. Brown in the hospital. Then at 7:30 I would conduct a mid-week prayer service. At 10 I would go to bed and would wake up in glory." When Luther was asked what he would do on the day of Jesus' return, he said he would go out and plant a tree. Our text tells us that Christ expects each of us to be about our work so that when he comes, he will find us in gainful and constructive employment, taking care of the world as his trustees. Some years ago a tourist visited the Castle Villa Asconti on the shores of Lake Como in northern Italy. Only the old gardener opened the gates and the visitor stepped into the garden, which was perfectly kept. The visitor asked when the owner was last there. He was told, "Twelve years ago." Did he ever write? No. Where did he get instructions? From his agent in Milan. Does the master ever come? No. "But, you keep the grounds as though your master were coming back tomorrow." The old gardener quickly replied, "Today, sir, today." A Christian watches and works as though the Master would return this very day. He wants Jesus to find him busy about his tasks: washing dishes, mending shoes, running a lathe, teaching school, planting a rose bush. Jesus will be pleased to see his faithful ones working hard to build a better world, a more Christian society. 

13) "One for you, one for me.” A young girl was cycling down the road outside the cemetery. As she got nearer, she heard the voices, so she stopped and listened to the voice, "One for you, one for me, one for you, one for me . . . "She shuddered as she imagined some awful truth. She thought to herself, "God and Satan must be dividing the souls at the cemetery." She cycled back to town as fast as she could and found an old man hobbling down the road, leaning heavily on his cane with each step. She said, "You've got to come with me. You won't believe what I heard. God and Satan are down at the cemetery dividing the souls." The old man didn't believe her, "Shoo, you brat, can't you see I'm finding it hard to walk as it is." She kept pleading, and he eventually gave in and hobbled after her back to the cemetery. When they got to the fence, they stood quietly and heard, "One for you, one for me, one for you, one for me . . . " The old man whispered, "Man alive, you've been tellin' me the truth, girl. Let's see if we can get closer and see them." Shivering with fear, they got as close to the wall as they could and peered through the fence. Unfortunately, they still couldn't see a thing. The old man and the young girl clung to the fence as they heard the same words, "One for you, one for me, one for you, one for me . . . " Then, after another minute, they heard, "One for you, one for me, and one last one for you. Okay, that's all. Now," said the voice of the one doing the counting, "let's go get those nuts by the fence, and we'll be done."  

The boys found a cane lying on the ground near the last few remaining walnuts. And, oh yes, the punch line . . . The old man got back to town five minutes before the girl did. (THEMAZEMAN@aol.com cited on The Jewish Humor List.) Is that what you expect from Christ's return--that you and I had better be on our best behavior because Christ and the Devil are going to divide up souls on the basis of merit, and we don't want to come up short? Then you need to take a second look at the Gospel. 

14) "Watch." Though Russia and the United States agreed in 1974 to limit themselves to 2,500 nuclear missiles and bombers and permitted themselves to build an additional 1,200 missiles with multiple atomic warheads, by 1991 Russia had 10,877 and the U.S. had 11,602 nuclear weapons. Both sides have enough nuclear weapons to blow up the world not once but many times. While hundreds of millions are starving, nations spend annually $220 billion for arms. Leading ecologists warn us that we will suffocate ourselves with pollution. The world seems to be winding itself up. And we seem to know it, too. A cartoon shows a man wearing placards as he walks up and down the crowded streets of a big city. On the sign is the warning: "The end is nigh. Prepare to meet thy doom." The sign carrier says, "The horrible thing is that people don't laugh at me anymore!" In our text Jesus is telling us to get ready for his second coming. The key word of our preparation is "Watch." He concludes his saying on this return with "And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch." Ready or not, Jesus is coming.

15) Reason to hope & rejoice: She had every reason to be bitter. "Though talented, she went unrecognized for years. Prestigious opera circles closed their ranks when she tried to enter. American critics ignored her compelling voice. She was repeatedly rejected for parts for which she easily qualified. It was only after she went to Europe and won the hearts of tough-to-please European audiences that stateside opinion leaders acknowledged her talent. Not only has her professional life been a battle, her personal life has been marked by challenge. She is the mother of two handicapped children, one of whom is severely retarded. Years ago, in order to escape the pace of New York City, she purchased a home on Martha's Vineyard. It burned to the ground two days before she was to move in. Professional rejection. Personal setbacks. Perfect soil for the seeds of bitterness. A receptive field for the roots of resentment. But in this case, anger found no home. Her friends don't call her bitter; they call her Bubbles. Who is she? Beverly Sills. Internationally acclaimed opera singer. Retired director of the New York Opera. Her phrases are sugared with laughter. Her face is softened with serenity. Upon interviewing her, Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes stated, ‘She is one of the most impressive if not the most impressive, ladies I've ever interviewed.' How can a person handle such professional rejection and personal trauma and still be known as Bubbles? ‘I choose to be cheerful,' she says. ‘Years ago, I knew I had little or no choice about success, circumstances or even happiness; but I knew I could choose to be cheerful.'" (Max Lucado, The Applause from Heaven, Word Publishing, 1990, page 3). Today we open the Advent season that leads to the celebration of the birth of Christ on Christmas Day. We prepare the way for the Lord to enter OUR HEARTS more deeply. This is why we do not lose heart or hope. 

16) "God warms my heart when I keep my eyes fixed on him." There's a great story about Saint Francis of Assisi that illustrates this very well. One winter night, there was a raging blizzard, and the man who was supposed to wake up every couple of hours and keep the fire going at the monastery was unable to find Francis. So he went outside into the storm and found him kneeling at the side of a hill wearing his ordinary clothing. His arms were outstretched; he was praying, oblivious to the wind and biting cold snow. A day later, when the man asked Francis how he could stand this, Francis replied, "God warms my heart when I keep my eyes fixed on him." God warms our hearts, too, when we keep our eyes fixed on God. 

17) Unique child: Dr. Norman Vincent Peale was one of the most sought after speakers of the 20th century. Shortly before his death, he spoke for his good friend Robert Schuler in the Crystal Cathedral. Dr. Schuler began his introduction by saying: "I want to introduce you to the most dynamic person you will ever meet in your life. He is exciting, positive and winsome. He can reach down inside of you more deeply than anyone else you have ever known before. He will give you self-confidence and courage, and a whole lot of other things you have always wanted in your life but have not had." Dr. Peale was astounded. He had never been introduced like this before. How could he possibly respond to this introduction? As he was trying to think of some response, he heard Dr. Schuler continue: "The person of whom I am speaking, of course, is Jesus Christ. And here to tell you about Him is my friend, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale." Yes, Jesus Christ came to free us to be all that God wants us to be. From that moment when Jesus Christ was born at Bethlehem, there came power and there came light into our world. There came life, and there came a future. If God can reach down and touch the earth in all its darkness and sin and win the victory, God can bring victory into our situation whatever that situation may be.  

18) The end of the world in 2012: With preacher Harold Camping's prophecies earlier this year, and the Mayan calendar's prediction about the end of the world next year, doomsday seems a hot topic these days. But today, I received a reassuring press release from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, assuring a worried public (were we worried about this?) that a gigantic, killer solar flare won't destroy the Earth in 2012. Whew! "There simply isn't enough energy in the Sun to send a killer fireball 93 million miles to destroy Earth," NASA's Karen C. Fox reports in the release. NASA also notes that the next solar maximum is predicted to occur in late 2013 or early 2014, not 2012.   

 Jokes 

1) The Messiah is Jewish: A Protestant Minister and a Catholic Priest enjoyed teasing their Rabbi friend, continually asking him when he was going to convert to their faith. When the Christmas season rolled around, the Rabbi sent them a card with the following note: "Season’s Greetings! Roses are reddish, Violets are bluish; When the Messiah comes, you’ll wish you were Jewish!!"  

2) Second coming? Some time ago a man was staying in a chalet (hotel) in the Swiss Alps. Early one morning he heard what sounded like an earthquake. Hurriedly he got out of bed and ran to the front desk and asked if there was something wrong, if the mountains were breaking up? He was scared. The man at the front desk explained, “Sir, we are on the west side of the mountain. As the sun comes up in the east, and the snow and ice expand as they begin to get warm. The expansion causes a large crashing noise. It’s not the end of the world or the Second Coming of Jesus; it’s just the beginning of a new day.”   

3) Who won? A little boy walked into his Dad’s room just as his Dad finished reading the Bible. The son asked, "What are you reading?’ The Father replied, "I am reading the book of Revelation, the last book of the Holy Bible." The little boy curiously asked, "What’s it about? His dad replied, "It’s about God’s final battle against evil." The little boy excitedly asked, "Who won?" The Father stooped down to his boy’s eye level and said, "God won."   

SYNOPSIS OF ADVENT I SUNDAY HOMILYON MK 13: 33-37  

Introduction 

The central theme of today’s readings is Jesus’ warning to us to be alert, watchful and prepared because Christ’s Second Coming, coinciding with the end of the world, can occur at any time. People, in general, used to have a paranoid fear about the end of the world. They expected it in A.D. 204, 999 and 2000. The title of a best-seller published in 1988 was 101 Reasons Why Christ Returns in 1988. A very popular film released in 1999 about Christ’s Second Coming was Omega Code, and another film released in 2005 was Left Behind. Excessive fear of the tribulations accompanying the end of the world led the followers of a religious cult led by Jim Jones (in 1978), and followers of another cult called Heaven’s Gate (in 1997), to commit mass suicide. But Jesus, in today’s gospel, gives us the assurance that we need not be afraid of the end of the world, Christ’s Second Coming and the Last Judgment if we remain alert and prepared. The Church invites us on this first Sunday of Advent to prepare for Christ’sSecond Coming, first by properly celebrating during this Christmas season the fond memory of Christ’s first coming 2000 years ago, second, by experiencing Christ’s daily advent or coming in the Eucharistic celebrations, in the holy Bible and in the worshipping community, and third, by preparing for his Second Coming which, for us, will happen at the moment of our deaths or at the end of the World. 

Scripture Lessons

In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah prays for God’s active presence in the Jewish community returned from Babylonian exile so that they may remain faithful to their God. In the second reading, St. Paul prays for the reconversion of Christians in Corinth who have misused their gifts and charisms and remain ill-prepared for Christ’s Second Coming. In today’s gospel, Jesus, using the short parable of the servants and gate-keeper of an absentee master who could return at any time, instructs his followers to be alert and watchful while doing their Christian duties with sincerity. The gate-keeper and the household servants are expected to be ever-vigilant because their master is sure to return. The time of his return is uncertain, but the reward or punishment is sure and certain.
 
Life Messages

The message of today’s scripture is that we should live in the living presence of Jesus every day waiting for his Second Coming. We have to experience Christ’s living presence in the holy Eucharist, in the holy Bible, in our worshiping community in our parish, in our family, in our own souls and in every one around us. The early Christians experienced it and that is why they welcomed other Christians not by saying “Hi!” or “Good Morning!” but by acknowledging the presence of Jesus in them, respectfully addressing them, “Maran Atha” in Aramaic, meaning “Our Lord has come” or “Come Our Lord.”  God bless you and keep you ever prepared for Christ’s second coming.