What does it mean to ‘be alert’ during Advent?

(Peter Berglund/iStock)

Today is the beginning of Advent and the start of a new cycle of liturgical readings. In Year B, we will hear many texts from Mark. Today’s Gospel reminds us that during Advent and always we must stay woke.

At the end of Year A, we heard several passages from Matthew that called for vigilance and preparation for the coming of the kingdom. That concern is prominent in Mark and likely influenced Matthew’s writings. Mark puts his audience on high alert, depicting Jesus preaching on the importance of watchfulness.

In Mark 13, Jesus makes predictions about the destruction of the temple and the suffering and persecution of his followers to come, revealing Mark’s context as an evangelist writing during the First Jewish-Roman War. Living during a tumultuous period of revolt, Mark and his community thought that the end-times were near, a concern palpable in the Gospel.

“What I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” (Mk 13:37).

Liturgical day
FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT (B)
Readings
Is 63:16-64:7; Ps 80; 1 Cor 1:3-9; Mk 13:33-37
Prayer

What can you do to increase your knowledge and understanding?

How can you advocate for justice for all people?

How can the season of Advent help you to be more mindful in your actions?

In today’s reading, Mark reminds his community to “Be watchful! Be alert!” To illustrate this, he describes Jesus telling a story of servants and a gatekeeper entrusted with care for a house. They are to maintain the house and continually watch for the owner’s return: “May he not come and find you sleeping.” Jesus insists that his followers remain vigilant, as they must be ready for events that are beyond their knowledge and understanding.

Like Mark’s first-century audience, many people today have been living in a state of uncertainty and anxiety. Covid-19, the presidential election and the ongoing struggles for equality and racial justice have dominated our minds and hearts. To use a 21st-century expression, Mark reminds us all to stay woke! We must be mindful of what is happening to us and around us. Like those given responsibility for the owner’s house, we must be responsible for ourselves, our actions and our community, constantly increasing our awareness, recognizing and criticizing evil and pursuing the common good.

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