Sunday Sermon for December 3, 2023, the First Sunday of Advent, Year B

Readings: Is 63:16b-17, 19b, 64:2-7; 1 Cor 1:3-9; Mk 13:33-37

In the first reading, Isaiah asks the question that many have asked over the centuries: “Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways?”  The question become even greater when we consider what St. Paul says in the second reading: “He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  So, how will God keep us firm and allow us to wander at the same time?

The entire question comes down to free will.  If we choose to serve the Lord, to develop the prayer life, and to grow in love for our Lord, then we will remain steadfast to the end.  However, if we act as though we do not need God, if we seek to serve ourselves, and we put our priorities on worldly pursuits, then there is a far greater chance that we will wander from the Lord. 

All we need to do is look back two years ago after the Bishops decided to reopen the churches after they had closed them down for COVID.  Fewer than fifty percent of the people came back to Mass when they had the opportunity.  These were people who would normally come to Mass, but it seems that Mass may have just been a matter of “checking the box,” that is, they did their duty and that is all that was necessary.  Once the Bishops declared that this duty really wasn’t a necessity, these people got the message loud and clear and decided they had better things to do on Sunday mornings than to go to Mass.

When we look back at the history of Israel we see how many times the people wandered from the Lord. It seems almost unimaginable considering that they did not have the means of modern communication and the advertising and marketing people working to convince them that they should do something other than serve the Lord.  We have many forces today that are conspiring to convince us that either God is not real or that we do not need Him.  We have allowed the local sports groups to put children’s athletic games on Sunday mornings, forcing parents to make a decision between going to Mass or bringing Junior to the soccer game.  On one hand, the decision says a lot about the priorities, but on the other hand, is shows that we have allowed secular groups to change the holiness of Sundays.

These, and many other things that compete for our time and attention, tempt us away from God and turn us to things that are fun, exciting, pleasurable, or profitable.  We all know how easy it is to fall into selfishness and, if we fall into these temptations too often, the result will often be that we either diminish our relationship with God or we abandon it all together.

This highlights our Lord’s admonishment from the Gospel reading where He simply says, “Watch.”  We need to remain vigilant if we are going to be prepared to welcome our Lord upon His arrival.  Since we do not know when He will come, we must maintain our regular routine, keeping things in order so we do not have to scramble to catch up when we hear the Master is coming.  Of course, when we are speaking of Jesus, there will not be much warning of His arrival and, because He is God, there will be no way to hide our negligence, nor will we impress Him by any façade we try to erect.

The admonition to watch is critical for us to understand.  We recall that our first priority in life is the salvation of our own soul, but we must also remember that the best way to save our soul is to love the Lord.  This is what we see in the first reading where Isaiah prays that God would find us doing right and being mindful of His ways.  More than that, St. Paul says in the second reading that we are not lacking in any spiritual gift.  So, God has given us everything we need, including the grace needed to have “fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Nothing is lacking on God’s part because He has provided everything for us to remain faithful and not wander away.  That means we cannot blame Him, or even question Him, if we do wander.  The problem is in our own free will which we must exercise to choose fellowship with Jesus.  We must make prayer the priority, we must choose to strive to do God’s will, we must choose to be vigilant and watch.  We do not know the day or the hour when the Lord is coming, but neither does that matter.  If we love and serve the Lord we will not wander from Him.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit