Wake Up and Thank God! (Mk 13:33-37)

3rd December 2017

Today is the first Sunday of Advent and the beginning of the new liturgical year.  Just as many of us reflect on December 31st the year that has passed and look forward to what is to come, so the beginning of the Church’s year provides an opportunity to do the same.

Many people think of Advent as simply the time in which we prepare to welcome the new-born Christ at Christmas. In fact, there are two parts to Advent. Up until the 16th December, the Church asks us to think particularly about the second coming of Christ – when he will come in glory at the end of time to call us into the Father’s Kingdom. Would we be ready for Jesus if he came today? If not, when will we be ready? These weeks are the time to take heed of Christ’s instruction to ‘Stay awake’ and to put our spiritual lives in order – for example, by receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation – so that we are ready to welcome him when he comes.

From 17th December, having prepared ourselves by prayer and the Sacraments, we look forward to remembering the first coming of Christ, the babe of Bethlehem, and re-living this mystery in the Church’s liturgy. Yet there is another coming of Christ, which St Bernard of Clairvaux speaks of: the third coming of Christ – when we welcome Christ into our hearts. The master of the house has left us, his servants, in charge, each with our own task (cf. Mk 13:34). Of all the tasks we undertake, the most important is to cultivate our relationship with God. This involves being open to the graces God gives us so that they can have a real effect in our lives. We each have our “own task” – our own challenges to overcome, vices to root out, particular virtues to cultivate. We “do not know when the master of the house is coming” (Mk 13:35) but we know he must not find us asleep. He must not find us insensitive to his voice and to the prompting of his Spirit. He must not find us wasting the graces he gives us in each moment. He must not find us ungrateful for all the graces he has already given us. For in these ways, we are like those who are asleep. St Augustine said, “Beware of the grace of God that passes and does not return.” Why does it pass us by? Because often we are asleep! So “Stay awake!” (Mk 13:37). Let us be awake to the gentle promptings of the Lord throughout each day. Let us also, reflecting on this past year, wake up to and give thanks to him for all the graces he has given us.

St Paul, in today’s Second Reading, shows his appreciation of the blessings God bestows upon him and his community and says: “I never stop thanking God for all the graces you have received through Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:4). How can we grow in gratitude for all the graces God gives us? During our community lunchtimes, we’ve been listening to an audiobook ‘Praise God and Thank Him’ by Jeff Cavins. Jeff gives an example of how we can develop a habit of praising and thanking God: when driving, his wife used to feel frustrated when she had to stop and wait for a while at a red light. She realised she could use this time positively and, whilst at a stand-still, could call to mind many things to be grateful for. After a while, she found it easy to think of many ways in which God had blessed her. She began looking forward to stopping a while on each car journey so she could thank and praise God for all she had received. Perhaps we can think of a similar practice to help us become more aware of all that God does for us? Mary, in her Magnificat, praises God saying: “The Almighty works marvels for me. Holy is his name” (Luke 1:49). Let us ask her to accompany us this Advent so that we are awake to receive all the graces God wishes to give us and so grow in gratitude to him for all we’ve received.