As described in the Roman Missal:
Advent has a twofold character, for it is a time of preparation for the Solemnities of Christmas, in which the First Coming of the Son of God to humanity is remembered, and likewise a time when, by remembrance of this, minds and hearts are led to look forward to Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time. For these two reasons, Advent is a period of devout and expectant delight.
Advent begins with First Vespers (Evening Prayer I) of the Sunday that falls on or closest to November 30 and it ends before First Vespers (Evening Prayer I) of Christmas. The Sundays of this time of year are named the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Sundays of Advent. The weekdays from December 17 up to and including December 24 are ordered in a more direct way to preparing for the Nativity of the Lord.
Period of preparation
In Today’s Gospel, Mark gives us this sense of Advent — a period of preparation and waiting for the second coming of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. It is an excellent example of the joy involved with the expectations of the return of the Lord; however, these expectations of the return of the Lord carry in themselves an unknown period of waiting. We would all want to know when the Lord is going to return, and we anticipate great happiness due to His liberating power and spiritual gifts.
We begin this Sunday with a direct cautionary message. There is a counterpart regarding all that the Lord’s return will give us. “Be watchful! You do not know when the lord of the house is coming.” Instead of instant joy, we are left with uncertainty; we know the Lord will return, but we do not know when. In the Gospel Jesus Himself presents us with a parable, saying:
Be watchful! Be Alert! You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’
The parable reinforces the message of Advent. We must be alert of our actions and must be attentive with our surroundings – most importantly, from within our hearts. Jesus is providing us with His love and many graces. We must open up our hearts and embrace His love. We must “be watchful!” and prepare by nourishing from constant Eucharist, meditation with the Gospel, conducting acts of mercy and sharing the good news with everyone.
Luis M. Quesada, Ph.D. Professor of Spanish Literature, Miami