Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.
Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And
what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake. (Mark 13:33-37 – NRSV)
Our Gospel today must be read in the context of Chapter 13 of Mark’s Gospel. The destruction of the Temple is foretold (13:1-8), the disciples are told they will be persecuted (13:9-13), there will be a “desolating sacrilege” and much violence (13:14-23), the “son of Man” will “come on the clouds” (13:24-26), there is the lesson of the fig tree (13:27-31) and finally todays command to “stay awake”.
“Throughout the Gospel, ‘Son of Man’ is a prominent title for Jesus. It sometimes appears as a reference to Jesus himself or in his role as a representative human being (see 2:10, 28; 14:21, 41). It occurs in all three Passion predictions (8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34) and related texts (9:9, 12; 10:45). But ‘Son of Man’ also refers to a pivotal figure in the events associated with the full coming of God’s kingdom. In Mark 8:38 we are told that the Son of Man ‘when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels’ will be ashamed of those who have been ashamed of him and his teachings. Mark 13:26 laces the manifestation of the glorious Son of Man as the climax in the series of events that constitute the unfolding of God’s plan for creation, and in the trial scene, Mark 14:62 identifies Jesus as the glorious figure of Daniel 7:13. Thus Mark 13:26 is a pivotal text in a very important theme of Mark’s Gospel.” (John R Donahue, SJ and Daniel Harrington, SJ, The Gospel of Mark, Liturgical Press, 2002, 381.)
At the very beginning of Mark’s Gospel we are told that, after the temptations in the desert Jesus “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:14-15). “The time is fulfilled!” Isaiah had prophesied: “Behold I create new heavens and a new earth, I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress”. (Isaiah 65:17) The Good News is that the prophecy of Isaiah is being brought to fruition.
The end is in sight – be mindful of that! That end is not here yet – be mindful of that! Stay awake!
The time of Advent invites us to reflect on our experience of time. For many of us time is burdensome, it lays hold of us and can be very oppressive.
As human beings, we live suspended between times. We are always in between – believers and non-believers alike. As believers in Jesus the Christ, we know that suspense to be a good thing.
It takes some practice however to come to the experience of living in suspense with gratitude and without anxiety, holding the tension without seeking flight into some kind of distraction. The comedian, Woody Allen, has observed:
“It’s not a good time for society. It’s a society with so many shortcomings – desensitised by television, drugs, fast-food chains, loud music and feelingless, mechanical sex. Until we find a resolution for our terrors, we are going to have an expedient culture, that’s all – directing all its energies to coping with the nightmares and fears of existence, seeking nothing but peace, respite and surcease from anxiety.” (“The Maturing of Woody Allen”, The New York Times Magazine, April 22, 1979, 32.)
Our experience of Advent reminds us of three ways in which we encounter the Mystery of God – God has come in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth; God is coming to each of us in every moment of every day, in every
person, event or thing; God will come again to bring about the healing of reality in Jesus Christ. This is a threefold fulfilment of the great promise: “I am with you!” (see Exodus 3:12).
Advent helps us to find in our experience of time an experience of the Timeless One. Time can then be experienced as a sacrament of that Timeless One who loves us infinitely. Time thus loses its power over us. As a place of encounter and presence it is an experience of freedom and Good News!
From the Didache:
“Give thanks in this manner. First, over the cup: ‘We give thanks to thee, our Father, for the holy vine of thy son David, which thou hast made known to us through Jesus thy Son: thine be the glory for ever.’ Then over
the broken bread: ‘We give thanks to thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which thou didst make known to us through Jesus thy Son: thine be the glory for ever. As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains and was gathered together and became one, so let thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into thy Kingdom: for thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever and ever.’
“Let none eat or drink of this Eucharist of yours except those who have been baptized into the name of the Lord. For on this point the Lord said, ‘Do not give what is holy to the dogs ‘
“And when you have had enough give thanks in this form. ‘We give thanks to thee, holy Father, for thy holy name, which thou hast made to dwell in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality which thou dist make known to us through Jesus thy Son: thine be the glory for ever. Thou, almighty Master, didst create all things for thy name’s sake; thou didst give food and drink to men for their enjoyment, so that they might give thanks to thee; and on us thou didst bestow spiritual food and drink and eternal life through thy Son. Above all we give thanks to thee because thou art mighty; thine be the glory for ever. Remember, 0 Lord, thy Church, to deliver it from all evil and “to make it perfect in thy love” and “gather it together from the four winds” – the sanctified Church into thy Kingdom, which thou didst prepare for it: for thine is the power and the glory forever.
“‘Let grace come and this world pass away. Hosanna to the God of David. If any man is holy, let him come: he who is not, let him repent. Maran atha. Amen.'”