One young clergyman preaching his first sermon, was very nervous. He started with the text, “Behold I come!” Then his mind went blank. He bravely repeated, “Behold I come!” Still his frightened brain wouldn’t function. So he leaned over the pulpit and repeated once more, “Behold I come!” At that moment the pulpit collapsed. He tumbled over into the lap of a lady. He got up and, red-faced, stammered, “Oh, I’m sorry! Please forgive me!” The lady was not upset in the least and replied, “That’s all right. I should have been expecting you. After all you warned me three times!”
With Thanksgiving behind us, the holiday season is taking off. As beautiful as this season is, there is no doubt that it places increasing demands upon us. The preparation for family gatherings, for special meals, for shopping and gifts absorbs our time and our energy. Yet it is possible in the midst of all these activities to miss what is truly important. This is why today’s gospel tells us to stay awake, to stay awake to life, to stay awake to what really matters.
After all, what is the value of spending hours of preparation to call family and friends together, if the activity of that preparation prevents us from appreciating the people who gather? What advantage is it to find the perfect gift for every person, if the activity of finding that gift makes us irritable or impatient with the people we love? What is the ultimate importance of checking off everything from our holiday list, if such activity blinds us to the moments of grace that God will place in our life?
Those moments of grace are at the heart of the holiday season. Those moments are what we cannot miss. It is for those moments that we must stay awake. Christ is with us, and Christ does plan to bless us in the upcoming weeks, with tenderness, reconciliation, and joy. But the success of the holidays will depend on our ability to recognize those moments and to take them in.
We have heard so many times the word “advent” means “coming”. The season of advent is a time to prepare for Christ’s coming to us 2000 years ago and Christ’s coming to us some day in the future. Jesus tells us emphatically to watch for his coming, to be alert.
Our job is not to sit piously and stare at the sky, recalling Jesus first coming and anticipating his second coming. Our job is to complete the work he gave us to do. Advent is a time when we call to mind in a special way, that when Jesus returns he will judge us on how well we worked to spread God’s kingdom on earth. “Christ has died. Christ is risen and Christ will come again” Until he does, we must be about the work he gave us to do.
As Christians, we should be ready not just for the final coming of Christ but for his constant coming every day of lives. If we are alert, we can find the Lord popping up in the ordinary activities and possibilities of life. Recall last Sunday’s gospel: Jesus says, “I was hungry, thirsty, naked, sick…” If I am watchful, he may be tapping me on my shoulder when I meet my neighbor.
Advent is the countdown time for the celebration of Christmas. But Christmas is only a pointer to the constant coming of Christ in our lives. When we do Christmas shopping and buy gifts and cards suited to each friend, Jesus comes in the respect we show to the uniqueness of each individual.
May this Holy season of Advent inspire us to meet Christ in all our activities and in all the persons we meet. Let us take the advice of the gospel today and be watchful and be alert always in our preparation to meet Christ. While we are in this world, God is not a stern Judge but a merciful father.