“Be watchful. Be alert. You do not know when the time will come.”
It is interesting that this Gospel reading is proclaimed on the first Sunday in Advent as we prepare for Christmas. We know when Christmas day will come which tends to be our focus every December.
Jesus of course was not talking about our Christmas festivities. Jesus spoke these words of warning and encouragement just before he experienced his Passion and death, and his resurrection. This Gospel reminds us that the child born in Bethlehem which we recall with such joy at Christmas was born for a significant purpose, our salvation. It should give us pause in the midst of sales, parties and Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. A few passages later Jesus experienced the Agony in the Garden where he declared, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me but not what I will but what you will.” A short time later Jesus found Peter, James and John asleep though he had asked them to keep watch. “Could you not keep watch for one hour? he sadly asked and ruefully noted the truth, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” We will shortly pray the Our Father in which we ask that ‘Thy will be done”. How willing are we to let go and allow His will be done.
In my prayer life and everyday life my good intentions start out with great fervor but over time worldly distractions often get in the way. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.
Most of us can relate to the words from the Prophet Isaiah in the 1st reading: “You Lord are our Father, our redeemer . . . Why do you let us wander O Lord from your ways and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?” It is we who choose to wander and harden our hearts in response to the wonders and worries of the world.
A frazzled mother was driving her six year old daughter to one of the child’s many activities under the pressures of the season. Her daughter said, “Mommy, when’s Jesus coming? I want to meet him.” The response was, “He’s been and gone, dear.”
The daughter said, “I don’t understand. I want to meet him.” “Well you can’t. Jesus was born over two thousand years ago.” Oh said the daughter, “Did you meet him?” We can meet Jesus everyday.
That is an example why we need this season of Advent. That is why the church delays decorating with red and gold, lights and glitter. We need time to prepare ourselves spiritually and not just for Christmas Day 2017. It is a season when we are urged to contemplate the coming or rather the comings of Christ, his coming into the world over 2000 years ago, his coming into the Church and into our hearts especially through the sacraments every day, and his coming at the end of time in glory to judge the living and the dead. None of us knows how many shopping days we have until that day comes. St. Augustine said, “It is by design that Jesus hid the last day from us – so that we’d be on the lookout for him every day of our lives.” To do so we need to keep in check the secular and self-imposed pressures of this time of year.
Advent helps us to do so. To prepare spiritually for the coming of the Lord in all his manifestations we need to watch and we need to pray: to watch that we are on the right path and to pray that we have perspective in an often crazy world.
To watch means to take the time to look around us and at ourselves and see what really is going on. A man drove a bus for over 900,000 miles without an accident. He was asked how he accomplished that safety record. He responded simply, “I watch the road.” That is good advice whatever our task as a driver, a parent, spouse, Christian, we must watch the road we are traveling to assure we are going in the right direction toward greater holiness and to avoid the tempting hazards along the way.
Do we see each day as a gift to be used well or a block of time to be scheduled. Do we view each person as a fellow traveler deserving our respect or as a thing to be used in getting our way? Do we have preconceived views on how things must be, or are we open to appropriate change consistent with truth? We need to be realistically aware of the lures that harden our hearts. Today, there is much uncertainty. While the stock market soars, many live in economic and physical poverty, violence consumes some neighborhoods, despite military power nuclear threat hovers, diseases like cancer and Alzheimers wear us and our families down. We are easily distracted and may miss noting the needs of those we encounter.
A meeting ran late and time was short for the participants to make the commuter train home. So they ran through the train station and one of them accidentally knocked over a table of apples that a young boy was selling. They all kept on going except for one man who felt badly. He stopped and helped pick up the apples noting that some of them were now bruised. He noted also that the boy was blind. He reached in his wallet and gave the boy some money, saying he was sorry for what happened and hoped that the money would help. The boy listened, raised his head and asked, “Are you Jesus?” When we watch for the coming of our Lord, we do so by watching out for one another, by being instruments of Christ, being Jesus for others.
To be prepared for the coming of Christ we also need to pray. Special prayers of the season are available such as those when lighting an Advent wreath. Attendance at daily Mass is a wonderful way to assure a spiritual dimension to these days. Here at the Cathedral we will pray Solemn Vespers with Benediction every Sunday at 6 p.m. We can pray less formally as well. Appropriate prayer is referencing our lives back to God. When we raise our minds and hearts to God we are lifted beyond the moment, are able to see the road we travel more clearly and put into perspective the stresses and worries of these days.
Christmas 2017 will come and go. The call to watch and to pray is ours every day of the year. Let us use well these few weeks of Advent to refocus on what is really important, our relationship with Christ. As the Psalm response so succinctly put it: “Lord make us turn to you, let us see your face, and we shall be saved.” Come, Lord Jesus.