Isaiah 2, 1-5 + Psalm 122 + Roman 13, 11-14 + Matthew 24, 37-44
On Board the MS Eurodam
There is a danger with this word “Advent” made all the more so by the customs that have grown up around the idea that comes to mind when someone says: “Advent”. The fact that we observe “Advent” just before the feast of Christmas does not help. The risk is that we begin to think that Advent is a “Season”; a time of prayerful preparation and readiness for Christmas, a time for confession and Penance Rites in some places, a time for lighting candles and wearing purple or violet vestments. Really traditional Catholics would be uncomfortable with Christmas decorations before the end of Advent. All of this keeps us trapped in an unfortunate state of mind that then leaves us to think that Advent is simply about the four weeks before Christmas.
There is a lot more to Advent than this however, and today’s readings raise that issue. For those who might want to take their faith more seriously, Advent is a way of life, not a season. It is a way of living with a kind of readiness, openness, and joyful anticipation that Christ has come and that Christ will come again today. In the present moment.
This life style is in sharp contrast to the fast-lane life of our culture where everything must happen fast, where there is no waiting, and every wish and desire, pleasure and plan must be accessible and granted without delay. People who have not begun to live the Advent life-style are always impatient, always at the edge of anger and sometimes over the edge. This impatience can make nice people rude, and they become poor witnesses to their faith.
While old age is rarely considered a blessing with all its aches and pains, there is often a wisdom found with age. It is a wisdom manifested in an ability to wait, to make time for others, to find time to wait, to watch, to listen, and to grow ready without any rushing or stomping around or growing anger. These are the people who will pause in the grocery store check-out line for a compliment or kind word to the checker who has been standing there for six or seven hours. These are people who do not even know where the horn is on their car. They wait and wave pedestrians safely across. They hold the door for others. They smile, and are always the first to say, “Thank you.”
This is a life-style lived in readiness for the coming of Christ. Those who choose to live a life of Advent are always looking for and always looking at the face of Christ. Advent for them has little to do with Christmas presents, Carols, Shopping, Cards, and Parties. It has to do with living every minute in the expectation that Christ is here; next door, behind us, ahead of us, in the poor, the dirty, the old, the sick, the Republican, the Democrat, the homeless, the child whose crying annoys us on an airplane or in the parent who cannot calm the child. You see, this life style is full of life, and adventure, readiness, and surprises. It is a life-style that looks a lot like the life of Christ.
I wonder sometimes how this culture in which we live, that idolizes youthfulness and worships children could handle it if God had decided to set the Incarnation up and have Christ come as an old man, feeble, forgetful, and ugly. I wish some artist would someday paint or draw a nativity scene with Mary, Joseph, and Angels gathered around a bed in a nursing home. That artist would have begun to understand Advent, and through that understanding lead us to a more profound understanding of what the Incarnation of God in human flesh is all about.
Jesus is speaking to you and to me today about Advent as a life-style for disciples. His instruction does not propose that living an Advent life-style is a passive or lazy kind of sitting around waiting for something to happen. Real Advent people get impatient, but never for themselves. They get impatient for others who have been used and abused, shut out and left out of a share in this world’s bounty and denied the respect and the dignity that is theirs because they are God’s own. Real Advent people might get angry but never for themselves. They get angry for the week and the frail, the poor and the helpless being pushed around and used for profit by those who expect and wait for nothing but the improvement of their own privileged lives. So there is a difference between people who live with the expectation of Christ’s presence and those who may think it is time to eat drink and be merry because the second coming is a long way off.
In the end, this is about simply living in the present. Active waiting means being fully present to the moment convinced that this moment is THE moment. Living that way makes certain that when that final moment comes, we will be ready and be living it to the fullest, joyfully, and faithfully, confidently and peacefully. So today, my friends, our response to God’s call and to the urging of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel is to become Advent people not just for four weeks before Christmas, but a lifetime.