This is the first instalment of the ADVENT SERIES with the Department of Sacred Scriptures, Hebrew and Greek
The Gospel from Mark, chapter 13, for the First Sunday of Advent is structured on the repeated verb γρηγορεῖν (grēgorein) and its correspondent ἀγρυπνεῖν (agrupnein - ‘to be sleepless, lie awake’), in their figurative meaning of ‘to be watchful, awake, vigilant, alert.’ Four times in five verses (33-37) the exhortation is sounded: watch. All four times are in the present tense in the Greek original: so not a one-time action, but a durative continuous, attitude. Watch all the time! Don’t relax or let down your guard!
Why this insistence on alertness, watchfulness? For what? For a Baby, born in a manger?
The Gospel traveller who entrusts his house with his watchful servants is described in participles and adjectives (“like a man on a journey, leaving home and putting his slaves in charge, each with his work” – v.34), not in finite verbs: his travelling describes him on a constant journey! And so should his servants be on constant watch!
He himself doesn’t give a return date. So the servants could expect him back any time. The Sitz im Leben, the situation in life at the time of writing (Mark writes in the year 65) was that of high expectation for Jesus’ return in glory. But the challenge by the Community leaders was: don’t ask ‘when’ but ‘how shall we engage in waiting until he returns?’ The first writings of the New Testament, like 1 Thessalonians (50-51), have this theme at their core: “You yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (5:2), “as labour pains come upon a pregnant woman” (5:3), “you, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief” (5:4).
And yet, in the thick of that highly charged expectation, the Apostle Paul exhorts Christians to link the time of waiting for the Second Coming with the nitty gritty of everyday life: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12).
Advent is the ‘coming’; the coming of the Lord Jesus in glory and power to fulfil creation to its original perfection (see Genesis 1:31).
When is the day and hour of his coming? The question to be asked is not ‘when?’, but rather ‘how?’: how shall the Christian live until the Risen Lord comes?
The answer is set in his first coming as a human being in Bethlehem: he took upon him human nature so as to show humanity how human living is the vehicle that transports it to the day and hour of its total transformation of the Second Coming. Everyday human life and living are the constant journey towards The Day. So, yes, watch and be alert for everyday living is full of signs of that Day we all yearn for!