Year B: First Sunday of Advent

“Be watchful! You do not know when
The Lord of the house is coming”

Mark 13: 33-37

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 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!’”


Discussion Questions:

  1. Living some two millennia after these words were spoken, what is the significance of watchfulness for you at this time of your life and during this Advent? What are you watching for?
  2. This gospel passage can have an anxious or ominous, “end time” tone to it that is uncharacteristic of our usual anticipation of Advent. In this present culture what do you personally need to be alert to… as a way of preparing for the Lord?
  3. Our Advent season is not just to remember one coming and to hope for another. How do you recognize and celebrate the many ways Christ is coming to us in every moment of our lives? What are some of these for you?
  4. Advent brings the hope of a renewed devotion to discipleship and a responsible stewardship of the gifts we’ve been given. We each have our own work. How could you develop a deeper interior awareness this Advent? What would being more awake, more alert and more watchful look like for you? What actions would result?

Biblical Context

Mark 13:33-37

Patricia Datchuck Sánchez

An ancient psalmist once praised God for the fact that wisdom could be found spilling forth from the mouths of babes (Ps 8:3). When a child delights an adult with a gem of innocent insight, the psalmist’s words are often repeated in affirmation of the fact. Most would agree that there are also other lessons to be learned from these little ones.

While their motivation may not necessarily be the purest, many children undergo a remarkable attitude adjustment in the weeks before Christmas. Traditional songs remind children that Santa Claus is coming to town, that he’s making a list and checking it twice. . . that he knows who’s naughty or nice. Eager to please and eager to be pleased when Christmas finally arrives, children do chores without complaint and make such efforts at goodness that their behavior during the rest of the year dims by comparison. On the eve of the long-awaited day, many little eyes and ears strain to remain alert so as to be able to catch a glimpse when the great jolly one appears. Perhaps this yearly Christmas phenomenon which brings out the best in our children also holds an insight from which adults may benefit.

Mark, today, advises his readers to remain watchful and alert, and, like good servants, to be about the task of doing the best that can be expected of them while awaiting the coming of Christ. These admonitions and others like them are repeated each Advent to awaken in believers a sense of the imminence of Jesus’ coming and to foster an attitude of quiet, childlike eagerness with which to prepare a welcome.

Significantly, each of the servants in Mark’s illustrative parable (vv.34-36) had been given a specific task by the master. In his writings, Paul preferred to speak in terms of the unique gifts and charisms which each believer had received (1 Corinthians 12). Luke and Matthew told similar parables regarding the talents entrusted to each servant by their master (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-27). While children spend December in anticipation of receiving gifts, the spirituality of Advent challenges believers to acknowledge and develop the gifts (tasks, talents) each has already been given and to devote these toward the realization of the coming reign of God in Christ.

Although some interpreters of scripture press the text into a literalness not intended by its various authors, the phrase, “you do not know when the appointed time will come” (vs 33) seems to be an exception to the fundamentalist rule. As Arthur J. Dewey (Proclamation, Fortress Press, Minneapolis: 1996) has noted, with the approach of the third Christian millennium, “much ink will be spilt and hard disks filled to capacity over speculation concerning the end times. . . Such simplistic interpretations actually miss the deeper possibilities of this material. This passage calls for a special alertness that permeates one’s entire life.”

Jesus, himself had professed to be ignorant of the specifics of the end time (see Mark 13:32). Neither would his disciples (or anyone else) be privy to that information (vs. 33). But rather than be frenzied by anxiety or lulled into a torpor, Jesus called for constancy, conscientiousness and a sharp eye. In further comment on this gospel, Arthur J. Dewey (op. cit.) advises, “Life is in movement, the game’s afoot! We are not victims to the givens of our culture; instead, we are responsible servants of the future.”

What Advent Should Be


Fr. Ron Rolheiser

Our Advent season opens with the words: Be watchful! This is sometimes translated as: Stay awake! What does it mean to be watchful, to stay awake?

Well, we can be asleep too many things even while we are awake, not least during this Advent season. For better or for worse, our society has evolved to the point where, for all practical purposes, we celebrate Christmas during the days we are supposed to be preparing for it. Our Christmas tree and lights go up after Thanksgiving, and Advent has become the season in which we enjoy most of our Christmas celebrations. Admittedly, it’s hard to break out of this, to be countercultural, and to have Advent be what it should be: a season to get in touch with our deepest yearnings. Like Mary, we wait patiently, preparing a womb within which Christ can be born.

So, how can we be watchful and stay awake? By staying awake to what’s ultimately important. By staying awake to the truth that God is with us even when most everything in our lives and in the world seems to belie that. By staying awake to the only things that will really matter when we say farewell to this world and our loved ones: love for each other, faith in God, and a heart grateful enough to let go and forgive all the angers, bitterness, and frustrations we had in our lives. Advent invites us to be watchful and awake to what ultimately matters in life.

And we can do that even inside our premature Christmas parties.

Fr. Ronald Rolheiser

Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, is president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas. His books are popular throughout the English-speaking world, and his weekly column is carried by more than seventy newspapers worldwide.