Productive watchfulness

Al Cariño
First Sunday of Advent
Reproduced with Permission

With the celebration of the Feast of Christ the King last Sunday, we ended the liturgical year. Now, with the start of the Season of Advent -- the time of waiting for the Lord's coming - we begin a new liturgical year. Thus the whole liturgical year begins with the waiting for the coming of Jesus and ends with His proclamation as King of heaven and earth.

How we are to conduct ourselves during Advent is made concrete by Jesus with the Parable of the Watchful Servants who are asked to be on the watch for their master's unannounced return (Mk. 13: 33-37): "Be watchful! Be alert!"

Jesus comes to us in two ways. The first coming had already taken place when the "Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Jesus then came as Savior -- to save humankind from sin. This was the long awaited event by the Jewish people in the Old Testament. This event we commemorate on Christmas Day. The second is Jesus' coming in the "end time." Jesus, now seated at the right hand of the Father, will come again but this time as Judge.

We live between the two comings of Jesus. During this time, the primary concern of Jesus (which should also be ours) is for us to allow Him to come into our hearts as our Savior. And to the degree that we accept Him as such and live according to His teachings and examples thus allowing Him to influence our every thought, word and deed, to that degree also are we prepared for His coming as Judge.

The parable ends with Jesus telling us that no one knows when His final coming will take place: "You do not know when the time will come." For this reason, He wants us to be always vigilant and alert lest we are caught sleeping and therefore unprepared for judgment. To make sure we understand what He is telling us, Jesus compares this watchfulness with that of the servants whom their master place in charge of his household before going on a long journey. Specifically, he orders the watchman to be on the alert for his return. And what he tells the watchman applies to all his other servants as well us to us: "Be watchful! Be alert!... May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping!"

With this Jesus tells us what sort of watchfulness is demanded of us. We are not to be idle while we wait. On the contrary, we are to be engaged in productive activity. We are to be like the farmer who, after planting his farm say with rice, continuously sees to it that the plants have enough water, are fertilized and cleared of weeds and pests so as to be assured of a good harvest.

In like manner, to "be watchful" means not to permit ourselves to "fall asleep." Thus as we await the Jesus' return, we are to live up to His teachings and examples. This means that we should diligently carry out our responsibilities as individuals, parents, students, bread-winners, etc., as well as work for the growth and spread of His Kingdom in our homes, workplaces and communities.

This is the kind of watchfulness that is asked of us during this season of Advent. Towards this end, we are to apply all our gifts, talents and resources. If we do so then when Jesus returns, He will not find us "sleeping" but occupied with His "Father's business." Thus we are ready to welcome Him.

A story is told of a woman who dreamed that Jesus would visit her the next day. The following morning, she cleaned the house thoroughly, prepared a sumptuous meal and put on her best clothes. Later, a neighbor came to borrow money since the money her husband sent her from abroad for the family's daily needs has not yet arrived. But she did not entertain her neighbor's plea because her mind was on her expected visitor. Another asked her to watch her sick child while she went out to buy medicine. She also turned down the request. A third came to ask for her help to settle a misunderstanding in the family but again she refused. Meanwhile, Jesus failed to show up at the woman's house.

When Jesus appeared again in her dream that evening, the woman asked why He failed to keep His promise. Jesus told her He did come three times but was turned away each time.

Obviously, the woman had not yet allowed Jesus to permeate her being and thus carry out His teachings and examples in her daily life. Otherwise she would have known that Jesus "hides" Himself behind the "least of my brethren." In effect, she was found "asleep." Yet Jesus wants to come into her life as well as ours if we but let Him. He keeps on knocking at our heart's door and eagerly awaits our "Come in!"

To reiterate, when Jesus will come again as Judge, no one knows. Meanwhile, we are to remain watchful for His return. And the kind of watchfulness we engage in will determine whether or not we will be admitted into His Kingdom when He finally returns.