First Sunday of Advent 

Reflection: Waiting for something better to come


I made my first Communion when I was 8. I had waited long for it, was dressed up in a dress, veil and shoes, all of them white. I was ready for the big moment.

Then, Msgr. Higgins gave the homily. He admired how we were dressed, “Little princes and princesses,” and told us that it was a great day. 

Then he said something I have never forgotten. He said, “Today is the least important time you will ever receive Communion. Every time after this will build on it and be fuller of grace.”

His homily also works as an Advent message that tells us: “The unknown future will bring more than we can imagine. Just keep getting readier!” That sets us off on a journey of hopeful anticipation.

As we begin Advent, we might recall some of our most memorable experiences of anticipation. Was it waiting for the birth of a child or the day of the wedding? Perhaps something seemingly much more mundane like the end of the school year, the moment when your date was to pick you up or meet you at the restaurant. 

Waiting reminds us that, like it or not, we don’t control the universe.

At the same time, we won’t discover the new unless we are open to it. Advent anticipation adds open-ended hope to all our anticipation. We keep growing, therefore the future is both unpredictable and promising. 

Sometimes, it seems that Advent is designed to be confusing. Theologians call it a time of “already and not yet.” Today’s Gospel captures that dilemma perfectly. Jesus says, “Be on the lookout!” For what? For the coming of something you can’t predict, something that will take you by surprise at the least expected moment! 

Jesus consistently avoided the trap of giving details about the end times. (They were — and still are — in an unpredictable process of becoming.) Nevertheless, he offered somber hints when he described the unpredictable time to come for him. 

He said it would come, “in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning.” Those were precisely the hours leading up to his passion. Jesus was arrested while praying in the evening. His interrogation by the religious leaders took place after that, presumably around midnight. Cockcrow was the moment for Peter to deny knowing him. In the morning, the Sanhedrin handed him over to Pilate. 

Those were the moments for which he was watching. The disciples remembered this clearly because those worst of times blossomed into the resurrection.

For what are we supposed to be watching? Although Isaiah asks God to rend the heavens, he describes God much more gently as our father, the potter, our redeemer forever. 

Today’s Psalm speaks of God the shepherd who watches over the tender vine. This leads us to sing, “Lord make us turn to you, show us your face and we shall be saved.” We realize that just knowing our God is all we need because, as Paul said, God is faithful and calls us and continually makes us capable of communion with the Son. When we are growing, that communion also keeps growing.

The Jesuit mystic Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1957), talked about how to move in this continual journey of becoming more. He wrote:

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability — and that it may take a very long time.

Sometimes we are tempted to look to the past as an ideal age: “If only I had lived in the time of Abraham or Jesus, or the days of the Latin Mass or … [fill in the blank].” That’s not what Jesus did. He knew the treasures of his tradition, he cherished them, but he knew that time moves in only one direction, therefore what is to come, hard as it might seem to be, promises to be more than this or any moment of the past. 

Our season of Advent — this year the shortest possible because Christmas falls on a Monday — invites us into hopeful anticipation. While we wait “for the revelation of our Lord,” we will need to learn to appreciate Jesus’ hours of passion and Teilhard’s disturbing “stages of instability.” We can appreciate them as hope-soaked promises in a process of growing in grace. 

Advent is the time to anticipate what we cannot yet see, and to trust that it will come. Each day’s grace will build on the last.

First Reading

(Isaiah 63: 16B-17, 19B, 64: 2-7)

You, LORD, are our father,
our redeemer you are named forever.
Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways,
and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?
Return for the sake of your servants,
the tribes of your heritage.
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
with the mountains quaking before you,
while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for,
such as they had not heard of from of old.
No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you
doing such deeds for those who wait for him.
Would that you might meet us doing right,
that we were mindful of you in our ways!
Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful;
all of us have become like unclean people,
all our good deeds are like polluted rags;
we have all withered like leaves,
and our guilt carries us away like the wind.
There is none who calls upon your name,
who rouses himself to cling to you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have delivered us up to our guilt.
Yet, O LORD, you are our father;
we are the clay and you the potter:
we are all the work of your hands.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 80: 2-3, 15-16, 18-19)

R. Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.

O shepherd of Israel, hearken,
from your throne upon the cherubim, shine forth.
Rouse your power,
and come to save us.
R. Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.

Once again, O LORD of hosts,
look down from heaven, and see;
take care of this vine,
and protect what your right hand has planted
the son of man whom you yourself made strong.
R. Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.

May your help be with the man of your right hand,
with the son of man whom you yourself made strong.
Then we will no more withdraw from you;
give us new life, and we will call upon your name.
R. Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.

Second Reading

(I Corinthians 1: 3-9)

Brothers and sisters:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God always on your account
for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus,
that in him you were enriched in every way,
with all discourse and all knowledge,
as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you,
so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift
as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He will keep you firm to the end,
irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God is faithful,
and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord.


(Mark 13: 33-37)

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Be watchful! Be alert!
You do not know when the time will come.
It is like a man traveling abroad.
He leaves home and places his servants in charge,
each with his own work,
and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.
Watch, therefore;
you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,
whether in the evening, or at midnight,
or at cockcrow, or in the morning.
May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.
What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”