Advent Begins: Preparing for the Glory of Christmas
User’s Guide to Sunday, Nov. 29, the First Sunday of Advent
Sunday, Nov. 29, is the First Sunday of Advent (Year B). Mass Readings: Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19; 64:2-7; Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37.
The readings today are from the First Sunday of Advent. Since the fifth century, Christians have seen Advent as a penitential period, a time of preparation for Christmas, and the readings today remind us of that.
The first reading is from Isaiah, who laments that our God allows us to falter. “Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?” That lament then turns to prayer for our greater fidelity and then another lament. The reading ends, however, by noting that our fidelity is itself the work of God, for “we are the clay and you the potter: We are all the work of your hands.” Beautifully, Isaiah relates that what we truly desire is to be faithful to the Lord and that we cannot be faithful without him.
The responsorial Psalm picks up on this theme. The Psalmist prays, “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.” Likewise, he implores the Lord, “Rouse your power, and come to save us.” St. Paul then tells us precisely how it is that the Lord saves us. It is “the grace of God bestowed” on us “in Christ Jesus.” St. Paul assures us, “He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
But this confidence in the Lord, and his work in us, should not lead to complacency. St. Mark reminds us in the Gospel reading of the warning from Jesus: “Be watchful! Be alert!” While we might be tempted to lower our guard and fall into presumption about our own salvation, Our Lord is there to tell us to watch and to pray: “May [the Lord] not come suddenly and find you sleeping.”
What does this mean for us today? Certainly, it should mean that as we prepare for Christmas and engage in all the laudatory gift-giving and celebration, we ought not lose sight of the fact that we should be preparing ourselves interiorly. St. John Henry Newman offers advice on how one might do this in one of his Advent sermons. He preached that just as we might prepare our eyes as we move from the shade into the full sunlight, we should prepare our souls for the glory of Christmas. This is done by engaging in regular and more frequent worship of God.
One way, according to Newman, to “Watch!” as Jesus tells us to do at the end of today’s Gospel, would be to attend an extra Mass during the week, if that is possible. If it is not, then perhaps we might recite a daily Rosary or engage in some extra devotional. A long tradition is praying the Christmas Novena of St. Andrew, which starts on his feast tomorrow, Nov. 30, and continues until Christmas (available via https://bit.ly/36f0wCk).
Another way is to make sure we get to the sacrament of reconciliation during this Advent.
In these ways we will be availing ourselves of the graces mentioned by St. Paul today, graces that will help prepare us for the Christ Child, whom we hope to welcome more deeply in our hearts at the end of this Advent season.