Wake up and get ready for the Advent of the Lord!

Listen to mp3 file
1st Sunday of Advent, Year A: Dec. 1, 2013
Isa 2:1-5; Ps 122; Rom 13:11-14; Matt 24:37-44

A few weeks ago, I was visiting one of our classes in the school; and in their religion textbook they were beginning a chapter entitled “Christ Will Come Again.” It was a chapter that presented to them this truth that we believe and that we profess each week: that Jesus will come again in glory; that we look forward to his Second Coming.

And this is the primary focus of Advent. The word “Advent” itself comes from the Latin for coming or arrival: it is Jesus’ coming, his Second Coming, that we called to look forward to, and to prepare for.

But in that class I could see that this wasn’t making much of an impact. The textbook spoke of Jesus coming at the end of time. This seemed to sound to the kids like history would just work itself out, and then, after it was all done, Jesus would come back. Some of them had been quite impressed by what they had heard about astronomical changes, about when the sun would die or explode, and so on; but Jesus’ Second Coming just didn’t seem to figure as a meaningful event for them.

And so I explained it to them: it isn’t that history will run out and then Jesus will come back; rather, Jesus’ coming back will bring about the end of history. And I tried to explain to them why this would make a difference that would matter: his coming would bring about the transformation of the universe into the new heavens and the new earth, and all sin and suffering and evil would be done away with—much as we hear in the first reading from Isaiah about the end of war, and beating swords into plowshares and so on. It is a wonderful thing that we look forward to and hope for.

And I explained that we don’t know when Jesus will come back. It could be in five minutes; or in five years; or in five centuries; we just don’t know. It could happen anytime.

Well, a day or two later, the class moved on to the next page and read: “When Jesus Christ comes again, he will judge all people.” And they learned about how he will separate the people into the good and the bad, and will reward the good, those who have loved and cared for others, and will punish the bad.

And, the teacher told me later, this made a strong impression on them. Because, if Jesus is coming back and we don’t know when, and it could even be five minutes from now; and if Jesus will bring judgment, which will include punishment for some; well, then, doesn’t that mean that punishment is coming for some people, who don’t even know it? And that realization upset them a little, made them a little afraid.

Or, we might say, it woke them up. Because this was perhaps the first time that they truly heard this message of Advent that we proclaim each week, that Jesus will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and it made a difference to them. And this is why we hear again and again from our Lord Jesus and from St. Paul in today’s readings: Wake up! Stay awake!
Be prepared! And this is the message to which our Lord draws our attention each year as we begin the season of Advent, the season of his coming.

So how will we prepare? Let’s take a lesson from what is going on around us. We know that this is a time of year when our society is in a great period of preparation. Many of us might be hosting parties or celebrations in the weeks to come; and we know what preparation that requires of us. So let’s apply those same lessons in three steps: clean the house, put up the decorations, and invite others to the party.

First, clean the house: clean the house of our hearts; search and find whatever sins we might have hidden inside, and leave them behind. What sins shall we look for? Consider the three categories that St. Paul listed in the second reading:

  • Orgies and drunkenness. Is there anything in your life that is just too much? Too much eating; too much drinking; too much television watching; too much time online? Then get it under control; put it in its place.
  • Promiscuity and lust. Sexual temptation was just as much a part of life in the 1st century as now; though now technology has given it an extra wrinkle. Are you involved with pornography and masturbation? Are you sexually involved with someone to whom you are not married, in fornication or adultery? Are you living with someone without being married to them? Then clean this up: step away from the sin, and step onto the path that the Lord has for you.
  • Rivalry and jealousy. How are your interpersonal relationships? How is your marriage; your relationship with your children or your parents; with co-workers, fellow students, or neighbors; with St. Martin’s parishioners? Here too, is there something you need to straighten out before you are ready to meet Jesus?

If you find such sin in your life, then remove it. Clean it up. And bring it to sacramental confession—at our parish Penance Service in a couple weeks, or sooner.

Second, decorate the house. How? Let’s take the Virgin Mary as our model. Think of the 9 months that she spent, from when she received the announcement of the Angel Gabriel to when she gave birth to our Lord Jesus. Thinking of that period, there are two things that we can imitate, as we seek to decorate the house of our hearts.

  • One is works of mercy. We recall that, right away, she traveled to visit her relative Elizabeth and to help her in her pregnancy. We too can consider what works of mercy we can do for others, in order to decorate the house of our hearts to welcome the Lord Jesus.
  • Another is spending time in prayer and reflection—as she did up until the birth of Christ, when she could then finally look into his eyes. Before then, she could set aside special quiet times: to reflect upon the Scriptures; to reflect upon what she had experienced; to be in communion with the God-man she was carrying within her. Like her, during this time of busyness and stress, we can set aside times for quiet, beautiful reflection. Within families, perhaps you can use the Advent wreath, gathering to sing and to pray. Perhaps you can pick up one of these booklets to use in reflecting and praying.

All of these are ways to decorate the house of our hearts: with works of mercy and with prayer.

Third, we then have the chance to invite in others. Are there others who need to be part of the celebration; to hear this good news; to clean and to decorate their own hearts in preparation for the Lord’s coming? We might speak to them, pass on the good news, and communicate this hope and anticipation.

And that connects well to something that our pastor is asking of our entire parish—ongoing ways in which we can extend a welcome to others, spiritually and physically, and be united as an entire parish in doing so.

  • First, spiritually. As we begin Advent, we ask each of you in the whole parish to pray daily during this season for the return of Catholics who no longer pray and worship with us. May many come back by Christmas! And, if you are physically able to, would you also consider fasting once a week for this intention? (In the future, he will provide to us one intention each month that we can all unite in praying for together.)
  • Second, physically. We also ask you to begin today to look around the pew before you leave Mass, to put hymnals in the racks, to deposit any trash in the receptacles at the church doors. Keeping our church clean will show respect for our spiritual home and make visitors feel more welcome.

In all these ways, as we grasp the truth of our Lord Jesus’ return and prepare ourselves, we can clean our hearts, and decorate them, and invite others into the joy that we will experience—when at last our Lord Jesus returns and brings us a reward and a joy far beyond what we can ask or imagine.

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