While the world is preparing for the festive activities of Christmas, the Church steps into her new liturgical year. On this first Sunday of Advent, when the joyful sound of Christmas music and its hustle and bustle start to fill the air and one's life, today's Gospel reading peculiarly comes from the apocalyptic chapter of Mark's gospel, ending with a stern warning.
Apocalyptic languages were common in the time of Jesus and that of the early Christians; apocalyptic imagery was often employed when describing the entrance of God onto the stage of human history to “put things right”. They are intended to strengthen those who suffer because of their faith and encourage them to persevere because God is on their side, and will rescue and justify them in due time. In the First Reading and the Responsorial Psalm, both the prophet Isaiah and the psalmist are lamenting and pleading for God's justice and His coming during their trials.
This yearning for God's coming is also reflected in the Gospel Reading, but Jesus reminds us to stay alert while waiting. We may think we are fortunate that we no longer face the kind of persecutions as our early Christian brothers and sisters had; but conversely, we are also unfortunate that we no longer have the eagerness for God's coming as they did. Why unfortunate? It is because this relaxation that we are now enjoying will easily lead us to be complacent, and makes us lapse into paying lip service to a fundamental element of our faith when we recite the Creed on every Sunday: “[Christ] will come again to judge the living and the dead”.
To have expectations or to feel tension in our life is essential for our spiritual growth. They are like sparks that can invigorate our spiritual life when we experience aridity, slothfulness or desolation. True, no one, “neither the angels in heaven nor even the Son” know when the Parousia will take place, but Jesus' warning is not only for His then disciples, it is also for all His followers in generations to come (Mk 13:32, 37). It is not necessary for us to know when but it is our duty to prepare ourselves in the present. Let Jesus' last words of today's Gospel Reading “Be on guard!” keep us alert in living a life of faith, hope and joy.