First Sunday of Advent B: December 03, 2023

Matthew 25: 33-37

Fr. John Tran

The spiritual life is first of all a matter of being awake,” said Trappist monk, Thomas Merton. A story comes to us from the dessert fathers: A monk asked, “Abba, what has God’s wisdom taught you? Did you become divine?” “Not at all!” “Did you become a saint?” “No, as you can clearly see.” “What then, O Abba?” “I became awake!” — Advent is the time of a spiritual awakening to see and experience the presence of the Messiah in our midst. We often fail to see him as he comes to us in the most unexpected disguises.

In this gospel from Matthew, Jesus tells us three times to ‘watch’; we are to “Be watchful! Be alert! Watch! Watch!” Watch because we do not know when the Lord will return. Why does he so forcefully bring home this urgent message? Remember that Advent is the season of preparing for Jesus incarnation. And what does this mean? It means that we celebrate Jesus becoming one of us, that he actually became just like us and experienced all human emotions and states of mind. It is clear that Jesus knows that it is difficult for us to be attuned to God. And when we are not attuned to God, it is more dufficult to be attuned to our neighbor.

The first reading from Isaiah expresses this so meaningfully and so well. It speaks of God as our Father and redeemer, and that we wander far from the Lord and trick ourselves into forgetting him and becoming like unclean people, people whose good deeds are like polluted rags. How do we change this? How are we to go about this watching?

We take advantage of Advent, a new year in the church year. We can begin fresh. We often think of making resolutions as the civil New Year begins. We think we might be more careful to eat better, get some exercise and be more healthy. Or we might give more attention to those we love or we won’t gossip and think before we speak. But the reading from Isaiah asks for a whole new attitude through which we may achieve all the individual goals. Isaiah says, “You, O Lord, are the potter and we are the clay, we are all the work of your hands.” Notice the difference from making our own ‘resolutions.’ In Isaiah’s way we do not carve our our own future by our own making and carefully plotting every step of the journey, but instead, we acknowledge that we do not belong to ourselves, but to God. We are earthenware vessels given over to God, who forms our shape and refines us.

In the second reading, Paul tells us that we can make this attitude of surrender to God by our living and active relationship with Jesus. When we are close to Jesus, God’s grace, his life, fills us and enables us to do things that goes against our human nature; we no longer have to give in to our will to power. But in taking in this grace, we do not become passive. Rather, we surrender to be willing to discover and embrace the unexpected surprises that God may let us experience. Just look at the surprises that the Lord put in the way of John the Baptist who might have been expected to enter Temple ministry. Or what about Peter, James and John who would spent their lives as respectable and successful fishermen. Instead, Jesus guides them to come closer to him, and to live outward by bring Jesus to others, whether convenient or inconvenient.

Do you think that it is possible that you can go forth from this Mass, filled with God’s Son and His grace, and let yourself notice the surprises that God has in store for you today? In fact, God’s surprises are really all around us, if only we pay attention and let ourselves see them. The problem is they are not always very convenient; they are not always comfortable. But what real choice to we have if we are to “Be watchful! Be alert!...[for] you do not know when the lord of the house is coming.”