Quiet Anticipation, In the Action-Packed Gospel of Mark
by Paulist Fr. Rich Andre
December 4, 2017

Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily for the First Sunday of Advent (Year B) on November 30, 2014 at St. John XXIII Parish in Knoxville, TN. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Isaiah 63:16b – 64:7; Psalm 80; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; and Mark 13:33-37.

For the next two weeks, we are at the point of the year when the Church seems to be most out of sync with American culture.

Today, we begin a new liturgical year, in which we explore the Gospel of Mark, my favorite gospel. And even though most of us are still recovering from tryptophan-induced comas from Thanksgiving, Jesus tells us to stay awake.

And we begin the season of Advent, the season of joyful anticipation of Christ breaking into our world in new and exciting ways. But as the Church is encouraging us to wait for Christ’s coming, you can’t avoid the Christmas music, the Christmas decorations, and the Christmas advertising that are everywhere! 

Nevertheless, Advent is a beautiful season. So, friends, let’s try – for at least the next hour – to stop thinking about finals exams, shopping lists, and Christmas parties. Let’s sit in the dimmed light and relish in waiting for momentous things to happen.

Most of you know that each of the four gospels is my favorite gospel. Tonight, I’ll tell you why. For most of Christian history, the Gospel of Mark has been the least favored gospel. It is significantly shorter than the other gospels, and it doesn’t have much material in it that isn’t also in Matthew or Luke. For centuries, Christians believed that Mark was sort of a Reader’s Digest version of Matthew – Mark took key stories from Matthew, told them more concisely, but he got some of the details wrong.

But in the past several centuries, we’ve come to recognize that we had it backwards. Mark was the first gospel written – Matthew and Luke got most of their material from him. It was Mark, as the first generation of Christians were beginning to die, who decided that the story of Jesus Christ had to be written down so that all of us would know the story.  

Still, when I entered the Paulist novitiate, I was not a big fan of the gospel of Mark. But two things happened that year. First, I attended a course sponsored by the Overseas Ministry Study Center in New Haven, Connecticut, given by missiologist Darrell Whiteman. He argued that if you want to introduce someone to Jesus Christ and to the Christian faith, you don’t start with John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” That’s too confusing. You start with the Gospel of Mark. This is who Jesus was, this is what he did, and this is what he said. About two months later, on my pastoral assignment in Berkeley, California, a newly-ordained Paulist priest named Charlie Donahue preached that Mark was his favorite gospel because it’s short and to the point. There is no commentary. It’s left to us to interpret what Jesus meant.

That’s why Mark is my favorite gospel. It tells the essentials of Jesus’ story, which are the essentials of our story as Christians. Despite its brevity and bad grammar, Mark weaves a compelling narrative. We’ll leave it for another day to talk about Mark’s techniques, but for tonight, let’s look at something simple.

This first week of Advent, our theme is “Wake up! You know neither the day nor the hour of the coming of the Son of Man.” This speaks to the surprise of Christ breaking into our world as a tiny child at Christmas, but it also speaks of Jesus’ Second Coming at the end of time.

But look at where this passage falls in Mark’s narrative. Jesus has just foretold the end of time, just before the disciples prepare for the Last Supper. He names several time periods when it is relatively dark – the evening, midnight, cockcrow, and early morning, warning us to be vigilant. “May he not… find you sleeping.” In the next chapter, in the dark of night, Judas betrays Jesus… while Jesus’ closest disciples are asleep. Before the cockcrow, Peter denies Jesus. Coincidence? I don’t think so!

So, what are we to make of this as we begin the two weeks of the year when the country outside of these doors is celebrating Christmas, but our liturgies in here say, “Wait! Not yet!” Perhaps our second reading can help. When Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christian community, they were in a mess. Many of them felt that since they were saved as Christians, they could do whatever they wanted. They broke into factions, the rich discriminated against the poor, and one guy insisted there was nothing wrong with him sleeping with his father’s wife.  

Before getting into the specifics of what was going wrong in the Corinthian community, Paul greeted the Corinthians by declaring, “you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In this season of waiting, in this season of dreaming about the presents we will receive, let’s take a moment to think of the spiritual gifts that we have already received. 

What are your gifts?  What are your talents? 

Now, let’s reflect on our deepest dreams. What is it that you truly desire? 

Could it be that God desires that for you, too?  

Maybe we have the whole concept of Advent backwards: perhaps we’re trying to rush the kingdom of heaven in certain ways before God’s timing. But simultaneously, perhaps we’re also inhibiting the kingdom from breaking forth by not using the gifts that God has already given us.  As Paul says: “you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.