Father Donald Senior, CP

Nov. 29: First Sunday of Advent

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Stay awake

Is 63:16-17, 19; 64:2-7; Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19; 1 Cor 1:3-9; Mk 13:33-37

A popular word I only recently became aware of is “woke.” Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary tells me that “woke” originated in African-American dialect and refers to being alert (or awake) to racial and social issues. 

Like so much of our discourse in these polarized times, some consider being “woke” a compliment and a sign of good citizenship. Others, however, view it as excessive “political correctness.”

While there might be debate about this word in current society there is no doubt that the quality of being “awake” or “alert” is strongly recommended in the New Testament. That is surely true of the Lectionary readings for this First Sunday of Advent.  

Advent itself is a liturgical season in which we are to intensify our spiritual alertness about God’s presence in our everyday life and also to think in a serious way about our future from the perspective of our faith. What is our destiny as human beings? With the calamity of the pandemic and dire warnings about the increasing destructive impact of climate change, it is not just religious folk who are concerned about what the future will hold.

The readings for this Advent Sunday call on us to be “alert” and to “stay awake.” The first reading from Isaiah pleads with God not to let us “wander from your ways” or to “harden our hearts.” When God comes for us, the prophet prays, “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways.” Despite the people’s going astray, Isaiah dares to remind God, “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 80 also pleads that we might wake up and see God’s merciful face: “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.” Help us, the psalmist prays, “then we will no more withdraw from you; gives us new life, and we will call upon your name.” 

Paul strikes a similar note in the selection from his First Letter to the Corinthians. Paul assures his fellow Christians that they are “not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus “will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of the Lord Jesus Christ.” No matter what fears we have about the future, Paul strongly affirms a conviction found throughout his letters: “God is faithful.”

Above all, the selection from Mark’s Gospel urges that we be spiritually alert so that we can respond to the moments of grace that come to us. The setting for Jesus’ words to his disciples is on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the city of Jerusalem and its magnificent temple.

Throughout the first part of the discourse (not included in the Sunday reading), Jesus warns his disciples that the future will include some calamities and heartbreak. Their mission of proclaiming the Gospel to the world must continue, but there will be opposition and suffering.

But the overriding spirit of Jesus’ words is that God is faithful and will not abandon them. At the conclusion of human history, the Son of Man will send out the angels to gather his loved ones from the “four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”

In the meantime, as today’s Gospel passage emphasizes, Jesus urges his disciples, “Be watchful! Be alert!” Like a sentry on the city gate, they are to be alert for God’s presence in our world. The word “watch” used repeatedly here is actually the Greek word, “gregoreite,” which means literally, “stay awake!”

Jesus’ call to “stay awake” reminds me of Pope Francis’ frequent pleas to denounce the culture of indifference, an attitude that assumes “things that do not affect me, do not interest me.” Yet, the pope notes, “The pandemic has highlighted how vulnerable and interconnected everyone is.” He says, “If we do not take care of one another, starting with the least … we cannot heal the world.” Such alert care for the needs of those around us is “staying awake.”



  • scripture