The First Sunday of Advent (B)
My dear encountered couples:
A Minister decided to do something a little different one Sunday morning. He said, “Today, church, I am going to say a single word and you are going to help me preach. Whatever single word I say, I want you to sing whatever hymn comes to your mind.” The pastor shouted out, “Cross.” Immediately the congregation started singing in unison, “The Old Rugged Cross.” The Pastor hollered out, “Grace.” The congregation began to sing, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.” Then the Pastor said, “Power.” The congregation sang, “There is Power in the Blood.”
Finally, the Pastor said, “Sex.” The congregation fell into total silence. Everyone was in shock. They all nervously began to look around at each other, afraid to say anything. Suddenly, from the back of the church, a frail little 87 year-old grandmother stood up and, and in a tiny quivering voice, began to sing, “Precious Memories.”
Sisters and brothers: Here is a quiz for you. You are sleeping. You are dreaming. A big lion is chasing you. You try to run away and you see a tiger coming in front of you. You turn sideways, but every side you turn to, you find a ferocious animal coming after you. How can you escape? The answer is: Wake up!
Today we begin the very special season of Advent. And the Lord’s call in the gospel is to wake up – and stay alert! Jesus makes it very clear that we will never know our own schedule of life on this earth. But Jesus also makes it clear in his little story that we are like the slaves whom the master entrusts – each with a particular task – and then to stay awake and be vigilant until his return.
Jesus makes it very personal and very individual – each of us has a particular task, something to do, something to accomplish – and so often our tendency is to put it off. Why do we put things off? Why do we procrastinate and delay? Why don’t we close the barn door before the horse runs away rather than wait until after?
When Jesus asks each of us to do a particular task – I don’t believe Jesus is talking about some life-long project or responsibility – like raising a family or saving our souls. I believe Jesus is talking about something very particular and something very timely – something we should each be dealing with in our lives right now. And there is no escape! Don’t think that just because your family is raised and you now live in retirement and the golden years that you don’t have something you should be doing!
If we take time – and it doesn’t have to be a long period of time – we will remind ourselves of what we should be doing that we have been putting off. It might be the talk we need to have; it might be the appointment we need to make; it might be the person we need to call; it might be the problem we need to face. I’m pretty sure that we will know what it is if we are willing to think about it – even briefly.
Jesus gives us a kind of wake-up call as we begin this Advent season. It’s not just about Christmas shopping and decorating and writing cards. It’s also about being awake and vigilant and ready! But so often our tendency is to put something off, to procrastinate, to delay.
We certainly don’t like it when God delays. In our first reading we hear the prophet’s cry, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” So often we are the ones who freely tell God what we want and how quickly we hope it will be granted. Now the shoe is on the other foot. Jesus is urging us to recall our particular task and to get busy about dealing with it.
Isaiah uses the beautiful image of the potter and the clay. “O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”
Sometimes when the pottery is not shaping correctly the potter will press down on the clay and start over. Sometimes the clay is not in the center of the wheel and needs to be centered again. It’s the same with us. God is always willing to make new starts; God is always ready to help us center our lives where they belong. It’s all part of what this season is all about.
Sisters and brothers: This can be a very busy season. We can get ourselves involved in all kinds of activity in preparation for the holidays. It can be a time of making excuses and putting off the thing we know we should be doing.
Wouldn’t it be a great feeling to be able to say at the end of this season, “Lord, I did that particular task you wanted me to do –the one that wasn’t easy, the one I kept putting off.”
Today Jesus Christ commands us to watch, to wake up, and to pray. Will we listen? Will we make resolutions today to increase our prayer, to increase our silence, to increase our listening that we may be watching and waiting when the Lord Jesus comes to us every day until the end of time?
Let's spend this season remembering how he has come many times in our lives. Let us remember the times when we were afraid and confused, and how the Lord brought us through. The remembering will enable us to “stand secure before the Son of Man.”