Reflection for the Vigil of the First Sunday of Advent 2014

November 29, 2014

by Micaela Randolph, OSB

As this new liturgical year begins, we shift from the Gospel of Matthew to the Gospel of Mark, the shortest and the first written form.  Mark’s Gospel is largely simple and unadorned, the message is paramount and Mark seems unconcerned about style or sophistication.  Although we have switched seasons and there is urgency that we be vigilant and prepare for the end time, Mark' Gospel follows very naturally from last week’s Solemnity of Christ the King.

These two feasts are deeply connected.  The One born in Bethlehem is not only King of the Jews but King of the world.   In this season, then, we are to look both to the distant past and to the distant future! Yet,  Mark is urging us to be Awake and alert!  NOW, today!

So stepping  into this new season, this new time, we breathe deeply, expectantly and we wait, knowing for sure that God is about to gift us once again. We are expectant because this is time we’ve never experienced before.  Time! God’s gift to us, woven into the very fabric of our lives.  "We have time, we don’t have time, we lose time, we find it, waste it, give it away, we want more time, we fear when the time comes, we wait for the right time!"

For a deeper appreciation of this new time, it is important to note that in the New Testament we find two translations,  Chronos & Kairos. 

Chronos is time measured by a watch or a calendar.  It is time divided into seconds, minutes, days, years and centuries.  It is measurable time.  Kairos, on the other hand, is altogether different.   It is known as "the acceptable time," "the time for decision," the "right time," "when the time was fulfilled."or "God's time." These two experiences of time intersect and there is significant overlap.  It is very important to realize that the one impacts the other. It is what we do with Chronos that leads us to experience Kairos.

So in our Gospel from Mark, we hear the message, "You don’t know when the time will come." Mark is talking about Kairos time, the right time, the time of Jesus' return, the time when all will be fulfilled.

And then he says, "Be awake and alert."  That means be awake and alert NOW.  So Mark is saying, "Be here."  Make good use of Chronos time. It is the only way that we will be awake when the Master returns.  It is the only way that we will recognize Kairos, "the right time" or "God’s time."

So how do we live NOW?  Basically, our American culture orients us primarily toward the future. Consequently, we need to be reminded to be present, today, to this very moment.   Meister Eckhart, a Dominican from the 13th century tells us, "Holiness consists in doing the next thing we need to do, and doing it with our whole heart."

Our wise mentors over our years in community have told us, "Be where you are and do what you're doing."

Anthony De Mello, in his One Minute Wisdom, writes of a dialogue he has with one of his students.  

"Where shall I look for Enlightenment?"
"When will it happen?"
"It is happening right now."
"Then why don’t I experience it?"
"Because you don’t look."
"What should I look for?"
"Nothing, just look."
"At what?"
"Anything your eyes alight upon."
"Must I look in a special kind of way?"
"No. The ordinary way will do."
"But don’t I always look the ordinary way?"
"Why ever not?"
 "Because to look, you much be here.  You are mostly somewhere else." 

In his book, The Contemplative Heart, James Finley asks himself, "How can I live in the now, more contemplatively in the midst of today’s world?"  And he answers. " live contemplatively consists of learning to awaken to the divinity beneath our feet.  In this awakening we begin to sense, however obscurely, that the great Way is none other than the God-given boundlessness of the sheer immediacy of NOW."   He further writes, "..the contemplative way is learning not to do violence to the fragility of our waiting…"  

So we wait, expectant and filled with Hope.  We ask for the grace to be awake to signs of Christ’s presence in our acts of kindness, humility, forgiveness and compassion.   We hope to be alert to signs of non-violence, to signs of peace. We watch for Jesus in the poor and the vulnerable. We remember that it’s what we do with Chronos that leads us to Kairos. Kairos, the time of the master’s return.