Weekly Gospel Reflection — The First Sunday of Advent
“In those days, after the suffering of that time, the sun will become dark, and the moon won’t give its light. The stars will fall from the sky, and the planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken. Then they will see the Human One coming in the clouds with great power and splendor. Then he will send the angels and gather together his chosen people from the four corners of the earth, from the end of the earth to the end of heaven.
“Learn this parable from the fig tree. After its branch becomes tender and it sprouts new leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, you know that he’s near, at the door. I assure you that this generation won’t pass away until all these things happen. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away.
“But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the angels in heaven and not the Son. Only the Father knows. Watch out! Stay alert! You don’t know when the time is coming. It is as if someone took a trip, left the household behind, and put the servants in charge, giving each one a job to do, and told the doorkeeper to stay alert. Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know when the head of the household will come, whether in the evening or at midnight, or when the rooster crows in the early morning or at daybreak. Don’t let him show up when you weren’t expecting and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: Stay alert!”
I had just started clawing my way out of the ruins of what used to be my spiritual foundation and the things I was seeing was quite startling. G‑d was becoming so much bigger than just one religion. My “way of seeing” was changing and I was doubtful of where I was going because of it. I needed some assurance, some “proof,” that I was seeing things more clearly. Honestly, if almost all of my previous beliefs were rubble, how could I be sure I was heading in the right direction?
That morning, as I sat there in my car in a parking lot at an intersection of two major highways, I said a simple prayer, “G‑d...I really need to hear from you. I need to know if I’m on the right path.”
Nothing. No claps of thunder. No warm feeling in my heart. Just the sound of the traffic going by.
I got out of the car and everything grew quiet.
Except for the song of a sparrow. She was in the tree next to my car and she was singing her heart out. I was in the midst of a wonderful worship service in a sacred cathedral.
I started to cry.
In that moment, G‑d was speaking to me through the sparrow-song. I was on the right path.
On this first Sunday of Advent, we’re given a passage that talks about the coming of Christ.
One that tells us to be prepared because “no one knows the day nor hour.”
But it’s really a disconnected passage trying to convey a message of watchfulness.
The “coming” mentioned here was not for us. Is not for us. It had a very specific audience — Jesus’ first followers and first century Israel. This passage (and it’s parallels in Matthew 24 and Luke 21) is about G‑d’s judgment upon first century Israel and the end of the Old Covenant age. This coming in judgment took place in 70 CE, roughly one generation after the death of Jesus. When Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed, G‑d’s Realm was fully established. The old had passed away and, behold, the new had come.
In other words, we know when G‑d in Christ came in fulfillment of this passage — 70 CE.
We also know when G‑d in Christ comes at the end of the Advent season — 25 December.
The idea, then, of being watchful in this passage doesn’t make a lot of sense to us today.
Being watchful, though, is exactly what struck me about this passage.
How am I watchful today? How am I alert? How am I actively seeking and waiting for G‑d? The story Jesus tells about a person leaving for a trip and returning surprisingly falls apart if the traveler turned up when and where the servants were expecting.
Likewise, if we expect to find Jesus in the Eucharist, for example, that doesn’t take a lot of watching and attentiveness, does it? Jesus gives the impression that we should be open to his presence in unexpected times and places and people.
The rude person at the store.
The hateful relative at the Thanksgiving table.
The prejudice person who kills a child of color.
The looting and pillaging that takes place after an unjust ruling.
The teenage boy who rapes and bullies underage girls at his school.
This is where we need to be watchful for Christ. It’s in those places and in those faces that we need to be seeking the face of G‑d.
But here’s the tough part…
Sometimes, we’re to be Christ in those places.
Perhaps we shouldn’t so much seek Christ in those places or in other people. Perhaps we are to be Christ in those situations.
Maybe the unexpected coming of Christ is through us. Maybe Christ is wanting to come to others and we are the one to bring him.
So, instead of seeking the coming of G‑d in Christ through others, maybe we should be aware of Christ coming to others through us.
Now that’s truly unexpected.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC