Happy New Year

Wait a minute! Christmas decorations may already be going up, and we’ve heard Christmas music in stores for weeks now — and all this even though Christmas is still a little over three weeks away — but c’mon, isn’t ‘Happy New Year’ really jumping the gun?

Well, maybe the word “Liturgical” should have been added in there, because this first Sunday of Advent (like all first Sundays of Advent) begins a new Liturgical Year in the life of the Church. And in regard to the Gospels, we now enter into “Cycle B”of the Catholic Church’s three-year lectionary cycle, where we will be hearing the Gospel of Mark for much of this next year. And on this first Sunday of Advent, in the Gospel of Mark, we hear Jesus tell his disciples (which includes us) to “Be watchful! Be alert!” (Mark 13:33)

But what are we to watch or be alert for as we begin this Advent season? For announcements of big sales on merchandise? For invitations to Christmas parties? For the little tell-tale signs that the celebration of the birthday of Jesus is nearing as we see the serene and sentimental scenes of the stable birth in Bethlehem go up in store displays and home decorations? If we are honest, that is the kind of stuff we do look for, even as we may be (hopefully are) searching also for something more profound, more meaningful. Actually, looking for those secular and mundane things might not be all that bad if it helps us get into the holiday mood of peacefulness and goodwill toward one another. And even if we do concentrate on the more “religious” aspects of Advent and the coming Christmas season, this cycle of liturgical seasons that we go through each year is more than artificially holding back and wondering what is going to happen and pretending to be surprised when Christmas arrives. After all, we know the Christmas story and how it ends; we hear it every year. Jesus already came into human history once for all; he’s not being born again this Dec. 25.

And just as with the Scripture readings as the liturgical year comes to an end, we can see that the Advent scriptures are looking toward Jesus’ Second Coming — at the end of time. But, what about the in-between time? What about now? Don’t we at times feel like the prophet Isaiah pleading to God in this Sunday’s first Reading: “Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage. Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with mountains quaking before you.” (Isa 63:17, 19b)? Don’t we at times wonder where God is today, and want and need a real sign of God’s presence in our lives now?

Maybe that’s what we need to be watchful for, to be alert for. And if we take the time to really watch, to really look, to really listen, to “ponder” the events in our lives — as the Blessed Virgin Mary pondered the events in her life — you will find where God is present. Oh, we are really good at gathering information — my gosh, we live in the information age after all — but we seldom ponder because that involves waiting, and that is something we do not do well.

If you don’t like waiting, well then you have a gift this year because Advent is the shortest it can be – the fourth Sunday of Advent (Dec. 24) is the last day of Advent. As we watch the candles of our Advent wreaths slowly burn down, even with this shortened Advent, let them be a reminder — if a painstakingly slow one — for us to slow down and ponder how and where God is being revealed in our lives today.

Blessings on your beginning of Advent — on your pondering.