1st Sunday of Advent (Year B)

Advent is designed to wake us up. Let us be attentive to the call!

Icon of the Nativity


First Reading: Isaiah 63:16-17; 64:1,3-8

  • The passage begins and ends with calling God ‘Father’ – what is the significance of this repetition?
  • This passage was probably written after the return from exile; this might give context to the plea for God to return and the confession of collective past sins.

Psalm: Psalm 79(80):2-3, 15-16, 18-19

  • Notice the holding together of the images of God as shepherd and as warrior.
  • What is the connection between God’s shining radiance and salvation? Consider the Mass texts of Christmas that pick up on the image of God’s radiance.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9

  • Consider how the gifts of the Spirit help to prepare for the return of Jesus.
  • The Day of our Lord Jesus Christ, which Paul speaks about, is connected to the Day of the Lord in the Old Testament prophets: what does this say about Jesus’ identity and what his return will be like?
  • What does Paul mean when the Corinthians are waiting for Jesus “to be revealed”?

Gospel: Mark 13:33-37

  • In historical context, it would be very unusual for anyone to return from a journey at night, as it wasn’t safe to travel. Servants would not have expected the master to return at night, yet Jesus implies that this is the case for his return.
  • What does it mean to stay awake? What shape does that take in life? Jesus repeats the phrase four times in this short passage, which indicates its deep importance.


The liturgical year is like a water wheel constantly providing us with living waters of divine life and reconciliation from which, if we drink freely, we are transformed into images of Christ. This first Sunday of Advent is like a spoke of the wheel, a point that touches its rim and which we can label a beginning for convenience’s sake. But it’s not a real beginning, just as last Sunday wasn’t a real ending; wheels and cycles don’t work that way. The liturgy itself highlights this for us in that there is significant overlap between the themes of last Sunday and this theme: the coming back of the King.

We pick up Mark’s Gospel now in Holy Week. Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem in triumph on Palm Sunday and has gone on to confront the authorities and leaders in the Temple, but has since withdrawn to the Mount of Olives with Peter, James, John, and Andrew. It’s to just those four disciples that Jesus then taught about the last things. That teaching takes up the whole of chapter 13, but today, we’re given just the final verses.

Jesus’ tone, to all of us, is serious: be vigilant, on guard, awake, alert. But alert for what? What is it that we need to be on guard for? “The master of the house is coming” – Jesus will come back to the earth. The meaning of Advent is that God is on the move, coming towards us!

It’s a message that can ring somewhat hollow in our ears. It’s been over 2000 years. We’ve seen what kind of hysteria can be whipped up by predictions that Jesus is coming back on such and such a date. We’ve settled into the belief that this world will keep ticking along until, one day, the Lord calls me home and I go off to heaven. That is not, though, the picture the Scriptures paint for us today.

Isaiah dramatically portrays the scene, calling on the Lord to “tear the heavens open and come down!” Calling on the Lord to come with such glory and power that at his “Presence, the mountains would melt.” What a powerful image! And when this earth-shattering Advent occurs, Jesus tells us that “he must not find you asleep.” If we let them, these verses have the effect of rousing us from our stupor. They can lift us out of the slumber, the spiritual dullness that the modern world sinks us into with the hours we wile away scrolling through social media or running down YouTube rabbit holes. Just imagine how it would feel if you were pulled away from Instagram by the heavens being torn apart so that the glory of the risen Lord could descend! Do you believe it could happen? Do you expect it?

Advent is designed to wake us up. To thrust back into our hands the gifts of the Spirit, which St. Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians. Through these gifts, may the Lord keep us steady until that day comes, and we may be found, in the words of the collect, “worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.”

Here, Jesus comes to us as Judge as we pray in the creed and see in Isaiah, but also as Redeemer and Saviour. Now is the time to prepare for his certain coming. Now is the time to be brought back to him and to remain close to him by the working of the Holy Spirit’s grace so that as his face shines on us on that day, we shall be saved.


  • The Second Coming of the Lord: Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed; CCC 668-682 (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
  • The Gifts of the Spirit: CCC 1831 (Catechism of the Catholic Church)