Today we begin the holy season of Advent, four weeks of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Christ; we celebrate with great joy the coming of Christ among us. This Advent we can ask ourselves one important question:
Are we waiting for Christmas, or are we waiting and watching for the coming of Christ? There is a difference.
Most of the people in the world around us are waiting for a chance to come together with family and friends. It is a time when we all give gifts to the ones we love and care about; and this time of year is always filled with a sense of joy and tremendous expectation.
Hopefully we will all be able to experience those things in these days to come. But none of these things are distinctively Christian. You could belong to any faith denomination—Jewish, Muslim, you could even be an Atheist—and still wait for and enjoy those things.
This Advent the Church reminds us that, for those who belong to Christ and follow Him, we are not just waiting for a holiday or merely anticipating a joyful season. We are waiting and watching for a person. That person, of course, is Jesus Christ.
In the Gospel this morning Jesus challenges us to do more than wait. He calls us to “Be vigilant!” He says,
“Be vigilant at all times and pray” (Luke 21:36).
Against a spirit of malaise and spiritual laziness, Jesus cautions us to be alert and ready. Be vigilant! Be watchful!
Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.
Advent is a time that we wait and watch for the coming of Christ, because He has already told us clearly that He is coming.
There is a true story about a small farming town in the Midwest that was experiencing a severe drought. It had not rained in weeks, and they were afraid of losing the entire crop for that year. The pastor of the local church called for a prayer meeting, and encouraged all the people to come together and pray to God for rain.
On the night the service was held, the church hall was full. The pastor was pleasantly surprised to see so many of his parishioners gathered together; many were talking and catching up on old times. There was a genuine sense of community and even some laughter in that place.
He made his way to the podium to call the meeting to a start, when suddenly he stopped right in his tracks. There, on the front row, was a little 8 year-old girl, and she wasn’t talking to anyone. She was sitting, by herself, with her head bowed in prayer, and she was wearing a little red raincoat. In her small hand she clutched a little red umbrella.
Suddenly the pastor began to realize that all those people had come together, with great sincerity and faith, to ask God for rain. But this girl had come expecting God to answer. She had come to that place expecting God Himself to show up.
When we pray, do we have that kind of faith? When we spend time alone with God, do we expect Him to show up? Do we have that same humility and trust in the promises of God, who tells us “Where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them”?
In Israel, in the time of Christ, how many people were waiting for the Messiah? They knew the promises of God; they knew that He had said He would come among them. Suddenly He appeared and walked through their streets; He taught in their synagogues and in their towns and villages. But so many of them missed Him! They were waiting for the Messiah, they were waiting for God, but they were not watching, they were not vigilant.
This Advent we ask God for the grace not to make that same mistake. Might we remain vigilant, watchful, and ready for the coming of Christ. The first and most important way we do that is prayer.
But we cannot simply remain there. We are called to put our prayer and our faith into action. Part of being vigilant and watchful for the Lord means being busy. We need to be about the business of the Gospel.
I saw a bumper sticker not too long ago that was referring to the second coming of Christ. It said: Jesus is coming back . . . Look Busy! There is some truth to that. We need to be vigilant as we wait for His return, and one of the ways we do that is by responding, in our families, our workplace, and everywhere God sends us, to the needs and the demands of the Gospel.
I worked for Stop & Shop, in the Produce Department, for 9 years. One of the first things we would do each day was to call the voicemail of the district manager for Produce. He was the one in charge of the entire Rhode Island division, and he would record instructions each day about which items needed to be on sale, what to watch out for, things of that nature.
But ultimately, we would call that voicemail because he would always end by giving a list of the stores he was going to be visiting that day. And if we were on that list, then we better be ready! If not, experience taught us all too well, things would be very unpleasant for us indeed!
And so we would do almost anything to make sure that we were ready: we would sacrifice coffee breaks, sometimes lunch breaks. We would call in extra help from outside, so that when he arrived, the apples and oranges were all stacked meticulously; every leaf of lettuce was perfect!
This Advent we are not waiting for the district manager of Produce for Stop & Shop; we are waiting and watching for the coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. What are the sacrifices that we need to make in our own lives as we prepare for that coming? Where is God calling us to be more vigilant, in prayer and in our personal lives this Advent? How are we called to be busy about the Gospel wherever God directs us this week?
We ask Him here, in this place, for the grace to be vigilant and watchful; here, where we gather and pray together each week, we know that God Himself shows up. Here, on this altar, He becomes present to us—body and blood, soul and divinity. Might we be strengthened in this Blessed Sacrament today, so that we will be more vigilant, more watchful for His coming in our lives this Advent.