I am reminded of a story about a family with a young boy who could not master math. No matter what they did – tutors, extra work at night, practice sessions – none of it worked. The boy continued to fail. Finally, the mother decided they had only one option remaining. She took the boy down the street to the local Catholic school and enrolled him. The first day of school, the boy came home and went directly to his room with a worried look on his face. He stayed there studying until bedtime. This went on throughout the quarter. Finally, the day came that he brought his report card home. He placed it on the kitchen table and went to his room. His mother tentatively opened the report card and to her surprise found that he had an “A” in math. She went to him and said, “Son – I don’t understand. We tried everything and nothing worked! What changed?” The boy said to her, “Mom, that first day when I went to school and saw that guy they had hung on the plus sign, I knew they weren’t messin’ around!”
“Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” Every year we hear words similar to these that we hear in our gospel today on the first Sunday of Advent. In fact, Jesus tells us six times in our gospels that we do not know what day or hour He is coming for each of us. I have to tell you, when He tells us something that many times, He generally means it! He isn’t messin’ around – and so we had better get serious and get prepared!
We think of Advent as a time when we prepare for the coming of God, but we are also to train our attention on our journey to God. Paul tells us in our second reading to “awake from our sleep…to throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” We are challenged in Advent to see the vision of our lives as Christians; and to look at the possibilities of life which Jesus calls us to. This is a season of preparation, a season of hope, and a season of anticipation. It is about the coming, the coming of God in the Word made flesh as Jesus comes to share in our humanness; the coming of Jesus into each of our lives on a daily basis and through the sacraments. It is about Christ being born not only into human flesh, but also into the very fabric of each of our lives, if we will only open up and offer him the hospitality of our discipleship. And it is about the Final Coming, when the teaching will be done – and judgment will be made. It is the hope and the promise of this final coming of Jesus, when the fulfillment will be complete, that we anticipate during Advent; but for which we are called to spend our lifetimes preparing for.
We are warned to be ready – but are we? Advent provides us the time to begin anew in our efforts to be transformed. It is the cycle of the church. Every year we get a fresh start. In our bible study we are learning about the patience of God with the Israelites as they wandered in the desert making the same mistakes again and again. And each time, he gave them opportunities to start again. To move from utter failure, that he might teach them and they might come to know him, and love him, and serve him. In Advent, we look forward with great hope and anticipation for what is to come – the promises of the future. No matter what we have done – how well or how bad – we have an opportunity to start again – fresh – and through no merit of our own. This thought dwells in my mind and my heart every year as we enter Advent and the new liturgical calendar. This year in particular as we come off the Year of Mercy – it strikes me that this is perhaps one of the most merciful acts of our Lord Jesus – that he willingly and lovingly lets us start again with no questions asked – no lingering strikes against us – every Advent, every time we go to confession, every time we say as the thief on the cross – “Jesus, remember me!” We have the chance to move from failure to eternal salvation.
This clarion call in the gospels to ‘stay awake’ is our reminder to bring a sense of urgency to who we are and what we do. And while we look with great anticipation to the hope of the future, we are called to invest our energies in the present. When Jesus came to be among us, we were provided with the hope of the future, not only because of his promise to return in glory, but because of the depth of God’s love shown to us in the very act of his first coming – he loved us so much that he took on human form and walked with us even to the valley of death. He gave us the gift of his teachings, the gift of his Spirit to be our constant companion, and the gift of himself in the Eucharist to feed us on a constant basis. The question is, what do we do with that gift of the Eucharist? We are called to be Eucharist to others! We are called to do it now! Do it with a sense of urgency! Do it with a passion for the Lord! For tomorrow may be too late – today is the day for us to awake from our sleep!
We can go to church every week and do all the good things we are supposed to, but if we do them with an apathetic, half hearted attitude, then we likely haven’t thrown off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light as Paul calls us to do. We likely haven’t shifted from a focus on those things which distract us from God to those which draw us into Him, and reflect His love out to others. During Advent, we have an opportunity to reflect upon and renew our relationship with God. To ask ourselves, what is it that we truly love and have a passion for? Is it Black Friday, the excitement of materialism? Is it sports? Is it partying and having a good time? Is it money or our job? Are we willing to bring the same passion and dedication and sense of urgency to our love of God, our love of family, and our love of others, as we do to our secular desires?
In Advent, we are reminded again of all that God has given us, how deeply he loves us, and the promise and hope of the future. If we embrace what he has offered us in his first coming with zeal and passion, the hope of tomorrow becomes a vision of joy. We should live as though Jesus died yesterday, rose this morning, and is coming back at any moment! Because God isn’t messin’ around!
CS Lewis writes of three student devils who were being dispatched to earth to finish their training. Satan himself took time off from his many duties to interview them. To the first he asked, “How will you operate?” Said he, “I will instruct them that God does not exist.” “You must do better than that – most know our enemy does exist.” The next said, “I will argue hell does not exist.” Satan was annoyed. “After millions of abortions, many people know hell exists.” The last said breathlessly: “I will tell them all that they have plenty of time.” Satan beamed with satisfaction. “Good woman! Why aren’t your male colleagues as clever as you? Do that and you will bring them down here by the billions.”
How many of those who have died in tragedies thought they had plenty of time? Do not allow Satan to trap you with the promise of plenty of time. Do not make the mistake of counting on tomorrow, for today is all you have for sure. To realize the hope of tomorrow, we have to prepare today. For the end time is coming, but we know not when. We only know that it may be soon and very soon when we stand before the Son of Man. Let us do it with a passion and a zeal that honors the love he has shown to us in his first coming, which delivers to us the hope and the promise of his final coming.