The season of Advent, among its many virtues and purposes, reminds us of where we are on our Christian journey. We are between “comings” of Jesus. Advent points us toward the celebration of the nativity of Jesus at Christmas; it also reminds us that we await the risen Lord’s return in glory. In the meantime, we are invited to open our eyes, ears, and especially our hearts to the ways he comes to us in our daily lives.
One thing I have learned in my 25 years of priestly ministry is that the Opening Prayer of the Church’s Eucharistic Liturgy often contains a phrase or line that serves as a “key” to open up the Scriptures in my homily. This Sunday we pray to God that we be given “the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming.”
Advent is a time of waiting. But not a passive, sit-on-one’s-hands-kind-of-waiting. It’s waiting in the sense of preparing for a special guest. Think of all the loving preparations that go into hosting family and friends for Thanksgiving. Think of the joyful running of kids to the tree on Christmas morning as they seek to receive and welcome long-desired gifts. Advent invites us to consider what preparations we need to make to welcome Jesus and reminds us of the excitement such anticipation can evoke.
The Gospel reading from Matthew is one of those challenging passages in which Jesus talks about “the coming of the Son of Man.” It can be disconcerting to hear him compare the “day of the Lord” to the coming of a thief in the night. Jesus’ point is not to frighten, but to alert us to the need to be prepared for him to come into our lives. At one level, he encourages us to be aware of our mortality, of the fragility of our lives, so that we don’t take them for granted.
At another level, Jesus challenges us to keep our eyes, ears, and hearts open to his presence in our daily lives. Jesus comes to us not only in Word and Sacrament, but also in the smile of loved ones, the kindnesses of others whom we encounter, and the needs of our poorer brothers and sisters.
The first line from the second reading, from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, declares, “You know the time.” Greek (the original language of the New Testament) has two words for time. One is chronos (from which we derive “chronology”), which is time as we typically think of it: minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day, etc. The other is kairos, which indicates “opportune time.” Paul talks here about kairos. He reminds us of the many blessings we already enjoy because God has sent Jesus to save us and to teach us how to live meaningful lives, and because God has bestowed the Holy Spirit upon us to empower us to live as Jesus taught.
When Paul says it is time to awake from sleep, he uses the image of putting off our night clothes and changing into appropriate clothing. What clothing are we to put on? “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ!” That is, take on Jesus’ qualities of compassion, gentleness, kindness, and love. Put on his way of viewing others. Wear his disposition of joy of knowing how loved he is by God the Father, the “Abba” to whom he taught us to pray with love and devotion. Putting on Christ will enable us to do those “righteous deeds” with which we can run to meet him at the end of each day—and ultimately, at the end of our lives.
The first reading, from the prophet Isaiah, reminds us that, as Christians, we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Isaiah describes how God’s presence among his people has transforming effects. God’s ways of holiness, embodied by the people who love and serve him, shine forth like a beacon attracting others. God’s ways are the ways—the only ways—that make for true and lasting peace, for beating swords into plowshares.
Vatican II famously teaches that the Church is to be the sacrament of Christ’s love in the world. By putting on the Lord Jesus, by saying Yes to God’s presence in our lives each day, we can be the channel through whom Christ comes to others. And we do so more effectively in collective witness through our communities of faith.
Let’s resolve to celebrate Advent well by witnessing to the joy of being recipients of the greatest gifts ever bestowed: the Word-made-flesh who dwelled among us and the Spirit of God poured into our hearts. Let’s recognize what “time” it is. Doing so will relieve some of the stresses of the season and keep us focused on what is most important: running toward Christ Jesus.