(Adults, begin by reading the Gospel aloud to the child. Alternatively, you could read the first paragraph of the reflection to the child, then read the Gospel, and then continue with the reflection.)
This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent is a time of preparing for the feast of the light of God coming into the world. The colour for the season is purple.
People often say that Christmas is Jesus' birthday, and Advent is a time to prepare for his birth. But I wonder if that is not quite all. When we listen to the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus tells a parable about preparing, but it does not seem to be about a birth:
“It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with a particular task, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.
So this is interesting. A man leaves his home and puts the people who work for him in charge of the home. In the Bible these people are called "slaves." Slaves own nothing. All that they have--even their lives--belong to their master. Everything they have is gift from him. The Master in this parable entrusts his home to the slaves. We have heard about entrusting before. We know this means the Master believes that these people are good enough for the gift of caring for his home.
Each of the people is given a particular task. Each one has a particular job to do. One of them is the doorkeeper who keeps watch. I wonder what the other people do. What other things must be done to take care of a home?
Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn—or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.
Hang on. Keep awake? Jesus lists four times of the night, from evening when the light fades away, until dawn when it creeps back again. Is Jesus saying that the slaves have to stay awake all night long?
That doesn't seem to make sense. Only one of the slaves, the doorkeeper, is supposed to be on the watch. What particular tasks need to be done at night? Even slaves need to sleep! If the Master comes back at night and the slaves are sleeping, isn't that to be expected? So I wonder if Jesus means something more. This is a parable after all. Parables always show us something more.
The word Jesus uses is a Greek word: γρηγορεῖτε (pronounced "gri-gor-i-tay") It means "to keep awake" or "to keep watch." To keep watch means to pay attention, to be alert and focused. Jesus seems to be saying, "Keep focused!" The slaves have tasks to do and they need to keep doing them. They can sleep, of course, but when they are awake, they need to keep on task. It would not be a pleasant surprise to have the Master arrive and find the home a disaster! But if they keep on task, keep caring for his home, what a wonderful surprise it will be when he arrives home.
“And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
At the end of the parable, Jesus is pretty clear. What he says to the slaves of the Master's home, he says to us all. This tells us some pretty important things, doesn't it?
If we are the slaves, we have each been given a particular task to do.
If we are the slaves, the Master believes we are good enough to look after his home.
And if we are the slaves, we have been given an even greater gift: we live in the Master's home.
This Advent, perhaps we can stop and enjoy that,
each evening as we go to sleep
each dawn as we awake.
We are living in the Master's home.
And as we enjoy this good news we can whisper this prayer of preparation...
what particular task have you given me?