Today’s reflection is for the First Sunday of Advent, December 1, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here.
Last week we celebrated the truth that Jesus Christ is the King of our heart, of our home, and of the Universe, and as this new liturgical year begins, we eagerly await the return of the King…and also His arrival. Wait…what?
Jesus said, I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end (RV 22:13). Jesus, God eternal, created all things and will also bring all things to their ultimate completion in him and through him; the world and all that is in it, including you and I.
The season of Advent is a special time of year wherein we appreciate and celebrate that more than linear, our experience of faith is somewhat cyclical, and that Jesus stands at the center of it all. The C.C.C. says it this way, “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming.” (524) So Advent isn’t just the more popular understanding that we prepare a place for the baby Jesus in the manger, but also that we prepare a place for Jesus in our heart.
While Lent is a far more penitential season of preparation for Jesus’ death and resurrection, Advent tends to be more celebratory in nature as we prepare for his coming and return (e.g. carols, family, gifts, lights, decorations, and freshly baked bread and cookies). But make no mistake–Advent is a constant reminder that the Lord may return at any moment and many of us (like last minute Christmas shopping) have a lot of work to do to prepare for the King’s return! Some Christians focus so preeminently upon Jesus’ return that they even call themselves as much–Seventh Day Advents. We too should focus on the very statement that we profess each Sunday in our Creed. Of Jesus we say, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.” Let’s not forget! Don’t forget! The King may be long delayed but that does not mean he will not return! And judgement will occur. Will we be counted among the eternally living or the eternally dead?
Today’s Gospel teaches us that very thing. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus teaches his disciples to, “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come…you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” Jesus clearly teaches that his disciples must do two things, 1. stay awake, and 2. be prepared.
In this life I find it very easy to become distracted by earthly pleasure and earthly rewards. In short time, if I do not remain vigilant, I can become sleepy to the things of the Lord. We can easily lose focus and supplant simplicity, virtue, and justice, with extravagance, vice, and relativism. I find myself having to conscientiously recommit myself to Jesus Christ and to staying awake time and time again. It’s sort of like my diet that way, I think. When I fail to maintain discipline at the dinner table and in my exercise, I quickly get unhealthy and out of shape, and can create quite a lot of medical problems for myself. Staying awake requires a tremendous amount of energy and focus. It is not easy. No wonder our first reading today speaks of climbing a mountain!
Isaiah teaches that people will say, “Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.” Like climbing a mountain, staying awake demands much from us. A relationship with God, to find and remain in the house of Jacob requires commitment, sacrifice, and long suffering–and I’m afraid that too many would rather rest for a while. And in their resting they fail to prepare, which is the second thing that Jesus says we must do.
Preparation for the Lord’s coming demands that we conduct ourselves properly. Those who are in training and have their eyes set on the Lord’s mountain have no time for the pleasures of the flesh. But when we decide to “rest a while” we can easily become complacent and begin to live in darkness instead of the light of Christ. St. Paul tells the Romans in our second reading, “For our Salvation is nearer now than when we first believed…throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light: let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy.”
This conduct mentioned by Paul was popular in his own day and remains popular in ours too. If we become complacent in our walk with Christ, as we climb the Lord’s mountain, we can become too attached to darkness–and many Christians have become enveloped by it, have become distracted and complacent, and their faith grows cold. The attractiveness of drunkenness, lust, promiscuity, violence, and jealousy consume those who, though on the mountain, take too many “rest breaks,” and soon begin to backslide, make excuses, and give up the hard work of Christian discipleship altogether.
And so, as we begin this Advent season, join me in both staying awake and being prepared. Let us renew our commitment to praying daily at meals and nightly before bed. Let us receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Let us attend Mass every Sunday, and maybe even once or twice during the week, if possible. If you’ve got a Bible, read the Infancy Narratives found at the beginning of Matthew and Luke’s Gospels, and if you have a Catechism, recommit yourself to knowing and following the Church’s teachings that you may be “instructed in his ways, and may walk in his paths.”
The truth is that both the time of Jesus’ coming and His return draws near. Follow St. Paul’s advice to, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” And if you believe in Jesus, believe what he said, “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” Amen?
To what degree have I become complacent in my walk with Christ?
How much time, energy, and resources do I spend on earthly pleasures and material gain?
When was the last time I read my Bible or a book about the Church and it’s teachings?
What commit will I make to “Stay Awake!” and follow Jesus’ example of simplicity, virtue, and justice?