First Sunday of Advent – December 3, 2023
Saint Peter’s Cathedral, Scranton 

As we begin a new Church year today on this First Sunday of Advent and as we anticipate the end of the year 2023 in one month’s time – the plea of the prophet Isaiah in our first scripture reading seems to capture our sentiments rather well as he voices the desires for God’s help while acknowledging the sinfulness of his people.  With wars in the Middle East and Ukraine and with violence, discrimination and hatred proliferating throughout our land and our world, the words of Isaiah on behalf of God’s people are more relevant than ever, thousands of years after they were first spoken.  “Oh, that you, O God, would rend the heavens and come down” with your powerful presence to fix our world which has gone awry.  …  I’m sure most of us would concur with Isaiah’s petition.

It seems fair to say that most of us would want a God who would dramatically come into our midst to end violence, war, poverty, famine and the various “isms” that divide us.  But the fact of the matter is that God has already come by taking on our flesh in Jesus Christ. 

Every Advent recalls his first coming, looks forward to his return which could occur at any time, and prepares us to celebrate that Incarnation on Christmas.  Unfortunately, we often forget that Baptism makes us sharers in Jesus’ first coming.  We have all put on Christ in that first sacrament and have been given all that we need to experience God’s saving grace today.  In short, despite our desires for God to make things right, we forget that it’s up to us to make Christ’s coming known.

It’s well, then, that before we put these unsettling times behind us, we reflect for a moment on these beginning days of a new Church year:  a reality that establishes for us the necessary foundation for how we best live our lives with hope.  And that very hope – rooted in faith – is a sure and certain promise – despite the turbulence that surrounds us and the challenges of a broken world that can deprive us of peace.  

In many respects, Advent begins at the end, with its focus on the promised return of Christ at the end of time.  In today’s brief Gospel parable of the master’s return, Jesus articulates the Advent themes of waiting, watchfulness and readiness.  He calls us to realize our responsibilities in the present as we dare to look forward to the promise of the future.

Like the world that we are all experiencing these days, Advent acknowledges for us the impact of sin in our world, the precariousness of life and the limits of time and our experience of it.  While confronting us with the reality that our lives are finite and fragile, these Sundays of Advent also assure us of the abiding presence of God in the midst of the struggles we face. 

And so, when Jesus challenges us in the Gospel, “Be watchful!  Be alert!  You do not know when the time will come,” he’s not so much reminding us to be attentive to the end times.  Rather, he’s calling us to a deeper sense of authentic discipleship.  He’s calling us to embrace the values of humility, forgiveness and selfless love and service as the surest means to our salvation.  And he’s reminding us that for all of our capacity to control our world and our lives, our surest posture is that of trust – trust in the abiding power, presence and mercy of God.

Some of you may be familiar with the “Surrender Novena,” given to us by a humble Italian priest, Father Dolindo Ruotolo, who passed away over 50 years ago.  At the heart of this prayer is an invitation for all believers to trust and to allow the Lord to rescue us from ourselves and to resolve our problems as only God can.  Each day’s reflection in the novena ends with these disarmingly simple words, “Jesus, I surrender myself to You – I trust in your power and presence in my life.  Take care of everything!”

May this day be an opportunity for all of us to reflect on those things that matter most.  In the midst of an uncertain world that seems to have gone awry, the gifts of faith, hope and love – gifts rooted in the grace of God – are the true treasures of life worth the investment of our lives.  May we continue to be “watchful” and “alert” – to trust in God’s presence among us – and so to find our lasting peace.