The phrase ‘wake-up call’ carries with it the idea that someone has been drifting along, unaware of the demands of their situation, oblivious to dangers or challenges that are looming, and this week’s passage from the Gospel of Luke has something of that flavour.
The first part continues the warnings we’ve heard in the last few weeks about the terrible things that will happen before the joyful event of the coming of the Son of Man, and we might think we recognise some of those negative signs in recent history and in our world today. ‘Nations in agony’ could make us think of Syria in the grip of civil war, the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa or the famine facing Sudan. ‘Bewildered by the clamour of the ocean and its waves’ could recall the victims of the tsunamis that hit Louisiana, Haiti and Japan or those islands in the Philippines and other parts of the Pacific which will be completely submerged if sea levels continue to rise. ‘Men dying of fear as they await what menaces the world’ could bring to mind those people who feel their future is so desolate that they take their own lives.
Jesus goes on to reassure us that, after all these disasters have happened, he will come again with power and great glory, so that, even in the face of horrors, we should stand erect and hold our heads high because our liberation is near at hand. But he knows that, as the years and centuries go by without his second appearing to get any closer, we can be worn down by the cares of life and our hearts can be coarsened by the temptations of this world, so that the good news of his coming might catch us unawares.
That’s why the clarion call of this First Sunday of Advent is
‘Stay awake! Be alert! Pray at all times for strength and confidence.’
St Paul joins in the chorus in the second reading, asking God to be generous in increasing our love and to confirm our hearts in holiness, urging us to make more and more progress in the kind of life we are meant to live. If we follow his advice, the sudden coming of the Son of Man and the establishment of his reign, when it does come, will not be a sharp shock but a glorious surprise.