First Sunday of Advent • Year C

Francis J. Horn, O.S.A.
St. Thomas Monastery
Villanova, Pennsylvania

Is 2:1-5
Ps 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Rom 13:11-14
Mt 24:37-44

In the gospel today, Jesus uses the analogy of a thief in the night to say that we do not know when he will return again; he says we must be watchful and alert, we must keep ourselves prepared to meet him at any time.

In his instruction to his disciples, Jesus refers to the Old Testament story of the great flood. As it is recounted in the Book of Genesis, we are told that the people were destroyed because of their wicked deeds.

But Jesus gives the story a new twist. He hints that they were destroyed because they lacked vigilance. Involvement in the ordinary routines of daily living dulled their sense that something significant was happening, or about to happen – that God was acting in their lives.

Jesus doesn’t mention any evil deeds; he says they were too busy with normal affairs – like eating and drinking and getting married – that they were unconcerned about more important matters. Their “sin” – what did them in – was not being alert to the action of God in their lives. They were, so to speak, spiritually asleep.

The season of Advent, which we begin today, challenges us to “wake up” and see how God is acting in our lives now. How often do you recognize the presence of God’s love in your life? Advent reminds us that the Kingdom of God is already breaking into our lives, even as we wait for the final coming of Christ in glory. The Lord is already with us; there are significant events happening to us now.

God comes to us – the Lord continues to call us – we must respond to that call. But we can’t respond if we don’t hear the call; and we can’t hear the call if we are not alert to God’s presence in our lives, if we are not spiritually awake.

The gospel today tells us that this spiritual alertness does not have to totally upset our daily routine. Two persons going about the same business (in the gospel, grinding meal or working in the fields) can have a different degree of readiness: One can be spiritually awake, the other, asleep.

The season of Advent challenges us to examine our lives for signs of sleep. St. Paul, in the second reading, tells us: “It is now the hour to wake from sleep….Let us cast off the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Advent encourages us to build into our lives a series of checks and balances, so that present routines don’t lull us into complacency, so that we don’t fool ourselves with a false sense of security.

One way we can stay alert is by making sure that prayer is a part of our daily routine. A period of prayer and reflection, even if it’s only for a few minutes, can raise our thoughts to what is most important; it can help us make sure we are spiritually awake.

Occasional spiritual reading can also help, whether it be the Bible, or a religious book or magazine. This type of reading assists us in getting to know God better and to see if we are on the right path.

Another help, I think, is for us to recognize that most of us are striving for this same alertness – we are a community of believers who are waiting for the Lord, and we need each other’s help and encouragement so that we will all be ready.

Our presence at Mass on Sunday – so many of us together for the same purpose – says that we are all trying to prepare ourselves for Christ’s coming, and that we are not alone in our hope of meeting him. It is when we gather around the table of the Lord and hear his word and are nourished by his body and blood that we both give and receive this spiritual support we all need.

As we celebrate the Eucharist today then, at the beginning of this Advent season, let us pray that we will support one another in staying spiritually awake, so that we will be able to recognize the Lord’s action in our lives today and every day, and that we will be prepared to meet Christ when he comes again in glory.