Advent, Week 1. Sunday Words of THE WORD

ANTIPHON (click for full Psalm)
To You, I lift up my soul, O God.
In You, I have trusted; let me not be put to shame.
Nor let my enemies exult over me;
and let none who hope in You be put to shame. (Psalm 25: 1-3)

Grant Your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth to meet Your Christ
with righteous deeds at His coming,
so that, gathered at His right hand,
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly Kingdom.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM (click for full Psalm)
To you, O Lord, I lift my soul. (Psalm 25: 1).

GOSPEL EXCERPT (click for all readings)
“Be vigilant (ἀγρυπνεῖτε, agrupneite) at all times
and pray (δεόμενοι, deomenoi) that you have the strength
to escape the tribulations that are imminent
and to stand before the Son of Man (Luke 21:36).”

Building on an earlier post, two Gospel actions focus the early Advent experience: being vigilant and praying.
ἀγρυπνέω (agrupneo) translated here as “be vigiliant” literally means “to be without sleep.” In antiquity, the soldier standing guard was the one who went “without sleep.” It was clearly understood that the soldier on duty not only went “without sleep” but was also alert, attentive, and “looked after the needs of those under his watch.” ἀγρυπνέω implied that some peril, generically understood as an external threat, existed and the first line of defense for the citizenry ‘rested’ in the attentive soldier whose work was for the good of others.

δέομαι (deomai) is one of a few Greek verbs that can be translated “to pray.” In its early Greek usage, δέομαι expressed ‘lacking something essential for life.’ δέομαι in this context often conveyed an immediate threat to life and the “asking” (its eventual meaning in later Greek) was a focused honing of all one’s energy and attention to secure the necessary item or help. In many situations when the essentials were provided to someone or to a group, the recipient was drawn into a new relationship with the provider. It was not necessarily ‘paying back’ as many recipients would never be in a position to do so; rather it was more an expression of gratitude for what the other had done in providing for life’s necessities. When the meaning evolves in later Greek “to ask,” it becomes one of the verbs used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) and the New Testament “to pray.” Of all the verbs translated “to pray,” the original meaning of δέομαι helps to direct prayer in a proper direction: the essentials of life viewed in the context of salvation.
Together ἀγρυπνέω and δέομαι frame early Advent’s work. In a few short weeks, the celebration of Our Lord’s Nativity will be upon us. Many of the events surrounding His birth as recorded in the Lucan Gospel abound in joy, joy and more joy. Hence a question worth wrestling with in Advent in the light of ἀγρυπνέω is, ‘what external threats are there to authentic joy?’ (For now, the emphasis is on ‘external threats.’ Internal threats will come into view shortly.) Secondly, in the context of δέομαι, ‘do I know what essentials are lacking in my/our life/lives?’ Obviously, ‘answers’ to these questions are not easy to come by and nor should they. The questions call us to an Advent stillness to sharpen the senses as to the assaults on salvation joy and to then rejoice gratefully in the deeper relationship made possible by the One Who Provides, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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