November 27, 2011 - First Sunday of Advent

Today's Readings

Today we begin the new year in the Church. Today is the first day of Advent. The first thing that can be said about Advent is that it is not Christmas. Though the world thinks that Christmas begins in November and ends on the 26th of December, we believe that Christmas is a season that begins on the 24th of December at the Christmas Eve mass and is celebrated in various ways until the 2nd of February. I cannot too highly recommend that you celebrate in the Church’s way. If you pick the way of the world, you will miss Advent entirely, which would be sad, because Advent is a wonderful season.

It is as question of ticipation and what sort of ticipation we ought to have. The world likes to have anticipation, but we ought to have participation. The world is rushing, rushing, because it is always anticipating what comes next. Our God lives in eternity, and when we choose to patiently participate in the present we come as close to sharing in eternity as we can. The world does not have enough time because the world has made plans months in advance and then rushes to meet those plans. We can have all the time in the world if we make use of it as it arrives.

But what is Advent if not merely pre-Christmas? The word Advent means “Coming”. During Advent we celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ. Both comings. We celebrate his coming among us as a man, which is how Advent is related to Christmas, and we celebrate his coming in the future as the judge of the world.

God wanted to reconcile the world to himself, so he sent his Son among us as a man, one like us in all things but sin. The Son of God had to come to us because we were not able to go to him. We could not go up to heaven, so he came down to earth. I say that God had to come down, but of course he did not have to come down. He could have left us in our sinful condition. Advent is above all a celebration of God’s love. He so loved the world that he sent his only Son.

And he will come again. When he comes it will be the end of the world as we know it. The dead will rise from their graves. Then they and we who are alive will go up to meet him in the sky. Then the whole world, every person who has lived since the creation of the world, will go to the Valley of Jehoshaphat and be judged. It will, of course, take a very long time to judge all those people, but we will have all the time in the world.

Some people talk about the end of the world as if it were something to be afraid of, something we would prevent if we could, but we Christians should not. The end of the world, the second coming of Jesus Christ, is something we celebrate every year in Advent. We know that it is coming, and we will be glad to see it come. If we love Jesus, how could it be otherwise? Who is afraid of the coming of one whom they love?

Yet even in this eager expectation, we do not abandon the present moment. Jesus did not tell us when he would return again, only that he would. The reason he kept the date from us was to show us what should be our frame of mind as we work in the present moment. Perhaps he will come next week. If we knew that we would give up all our plans for the coming year. People would stop working. It would be bad because Jesus wants to find us at work when he comes back. Or if he will not come for another thousand years, we would forget to wait for him. The date would seem so far off and unimportant. Instead, because he kept the day hidden from us, the Church has been expecting him for 2000 years and will go on expecting him until he suddenly arrives.

So what is the right attitude? Jesus’ advice to us today, which he repeats over and over throughout the Gospel today (contrary to this translation) is “Stay awake!” Obviously he does not mean this physically. Whether we are awake or asleep physically, we should be awake spiritually. He is telling us to be to the rest of the world what an awake person is among sleepers. It is interesting to be awake while others sleep. To get things done before others even get up or to finish things after others have gone to bed. This can often seem like the most fruitful time of the day, whether early morning or late at night.

The whole world is asleep right now. Most people are merely sleepwalking through their lives. They do not know why they do what they do. They work hard for vanities that disappear as soon as they have them. In the dream world many things seem important that are not important. How often have I had a dream where something seemed so crucial to have or to do, but when I woke up I realized that it was something silly and pointless.

It is easy to be awakened for a moment by a book or a piece of art or a retreat, but the temptation is to roll over and fall asleep again. Many people can remember a time, perhaps only a day, when they were awake, but it is difficult to actually wake up and stay awake. So Jesus tells us, “Stay awake!” He sounds like a man trying to wake up a groggy world.

For the next four weeks, as we celebrate that Jesus has come and that he is coming again, we ought to take this command particularly to heart. Fight off the weariness of this world. Fight against the desire to return to sin like a person rolling over and returning to sleep. For now it seems like so much effort is required to stay awake, but that is only because we are not fully awake. When we have really woken up, washed our face, and gotten to work, nothing could ever convince us to go back to bed.