First Sunday of Advent

December 3, 2023

December 3, 2023

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December 3, 2023

First Sunday of Advent

Ma. Marilou S.

Ma. Marilou S.

Ibita, PhD, STD

Ibita, PhD, STD

Happy New Liturgical Year B!

So, what have you been watching lately? Have you seen and enjoyed the latest among the blockbuster films of 2023? Have you seen and participated in the recent viral event on social media? Have you been watching out for the latest technological and AI updates? Or perhaps you are seeing the horrendous violence humans inflict on one another happening in real-time in war-torn places like Israel, Gaza, or Ukraine to name a few? Have you seen the heart-breaking destruction of Category 5 Hurricane Otis in Mexico, the Nepal earthquake and other ecological disasters lately?

Advent Year B readings invite us to reflect on the  intertwined themes of return and watchfulness.

For the first Sunday, the Gospel reading from Mark 13  reflects the apocalyptic teachings of Jesus addressed to his disciples right before his passion. He expounds on the Temple’s destruction (vv. 1-8), the coming persecutions (vv. 9-13), the desolating sacrilege (vv. 14-23), the promised coming of the Son of Man (vv. 24-27) and the lesson symbolized by the fig tree (vv. 28-31).

Today’s reading is found in 13:33-37, the last section. This passage uses overlapping verbs related to watchfulness that are very challenging in our times.

First, the verb “Beware!” (NRSV) (v.33). It translates the second person plural command of the Greek verb blepō. It underlines the intensity of the usual seeing with a sense of warning regarding the coming of the Son of Man mentioned in v. 29. This emphasizes the first thrust of the Advent season highlighted before December 16.

The second verb in Mark 13:33b immediately follows. Be awake, watch, stay alert! It is a second person plural command using the Greek verb agrypneō. Jesus reiterates that the time of the return is unknown to the angels and to the Son; only the Father knows (v. 32).

This verb issues personal and communal challenges: Do we await and watch for this second coming? Do we have the same feeling of penitent longing for God’s return as reflected in the first reading? The excerpts from Isaiah 63 and 64 ask the Father, the Redeemer (63:16), the Lord to return (63:17), even if people have wandered away from God’s ways. Do we still long and pray for the Lord to rend the heavens and to come down (64:1) amidst our global and local challenges?  

This hopeful longing is echoed in Psalm 80 and the response is: Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face, and we shall be saved. The gospel acclamation verse echoes it: "Show us, Lord, your love; and grant us your salvation."

However, it is not a passive waiting time. We are commanded to actively await. This same verb, agrypneō, provides the challenge. It also means to be watchful and to have a diligent concern for others, to keep watch over, or to care for others.

This meaning is underlined by Jesus’ short parable in Mk 13:34 about a person leaving home and journeying. He empowers and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch, repeating the verb agrypneō.

We might ask: what are we supposed to be watchful of? Who are we asked to watch over while awaiting the Son of Man’s return? Are we faithfully doing our tasks? Do we take care of the inherent dignity and human rights of our fellow human beings? Are we making our unique contributions in supporting sustainable development that respects the rights and wisdom of the indigenous peoples and the rights and needs of the future generations?

Individually and collectively, do we expand our anthropocentric horizon to include the rights of nature, our fellow creatures in the web of creation, as hinted at by the references to the metaphors of the mountain in Isaiah and the vine in Psalm 80. Isaiah 64:5 urges us: “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!

The third verb in the Gospel reaffirms the challenge: Be fully awake! It is the second-person plural imperative of the Greek grēgoreō. It focuses on the physical aspect and obligation for alertness, even if we do not know the exact time of the return.

As a friend shared, the readings assume that the Lord will come again which opens up a great future where our active participation is required both in discerning the visions of God’s reign and in making the visions come true. If we are asleep, literally, or figuratively, we cannot participate. The repeated commands for "watching” for the coming of the Lord and our decisive participation signify urgency!

Can we do it? Of course, we can! And we must!

Just as Jesus explained in the parable- those whom the householder left behind were empowered to do their tasks. And they are not left alone in this task. The opening and thanksgiving parts of 1 Corinthians in the second reading assure and remind us of what God has provided in the past and what is being given to us now and in the future. St. Paul writes:

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.

This is only the first week of Advent. Let us be aware. Let us be awake. Let us watch out and watch over one another.

Come Lord Jesus, come!

First Reading

IS 63:16B-17, 19B; 64:2-7

PSALM

PS 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19

Second Reading

1 COR 1:3-9

GOSPEL

MK 13:33-37
Read texts at usccb.org

Ma. Marilou S. Ibita, PhD, STD

Ma. Marilou S. Ibita, PhD, STD

Ma. Marilou S. Ibita obtained her doctorate in biblical studies at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, KU Leuven, Belgium. She teaches undergraduate and graduate students at the De La Salle University in Manila and graduate students at the KU Leuven while co-directing and directing doctoral students at both universities.

She recently completed her term as a Board of Trustee member (2020-2023) of the Catholic Biblical Association of the Philippines. She continues to co-coordinate the New Testament Interest Group and is part of the Bible and Social Engagement Interest Group of CBAP. As an active member of the Society of Biblical Literature, she previously served on the Steering Committees of the research units Second Corinthians: Pauline Theology in the Making (2014-2019) and the Feminist Hermeneutics of the Bible (2014-2020). She serves the European Association of Biblical Studies as Committee Member at Large (2021-present). She also co-chaired the Research Unit Pauline Literature (2011-2017). She co-founded and co-chaired the Research Unit Orality and Literacy in Early Christianity (2016-2022). Likewise, she co-founded and co-chaired the Research Unit The Bible and Ecology (2016-2022), which has expanded into the Bible, Ecology, and Sustainability (2022-present).

Her research interests include contextual biblical hermeneutics such as liberationist, feminist, ecological, trauma, postcolonial, and future-oriented biblical interpretations of the New Testament, economics and social stratification in the Bible, as well as adult faith education and dialogue that promote human rights and sustainability. Her recent publications include “Choose to challenge: Covid-19, Community Research, and the Canaanite Woman,” Acta Theologica 43, no. suppl 35 (2023): 180–99, co-authored with her sister, Maricel, an Old Testament scholar and a co-edited book, Kindness, Courage, and Integrity in Biblical Texts and the Politics of Biblical Interpretation. She has a forthcoming co-edited book called 500 Years of Christianity and the Global Filipin@ (Springer, 2024).

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