Rev. Joseph Keating

First Sunday of Advent (C)



Ever notice how the words we say can sometimes have completely opposite meanings, depending on the situation?  Take, for example, the words, “Wait till your father gets home.”


Perhaps you’ve heard these words before, and perhaps it wasn’t so pleasant.  Imagine you’re 8 years old, Dad’s at work, and you’re at home with Mom and little brother.  Now, you were recently grounded for refusing to share your favorite toy with your little brother.  In fact, it was the third time this week that you got in a fight with little bro.  So, as punishment, dad has taken away your favorite toy and placed it on the highest shelf in the closet, out of reach.  But you know you can reach it, if only you climb up the shelves very carefully, reach the top shelf, and grab the toy.  Then you can put it back before he gets home, and no one has to be the wiser. So, you begin to climb the shelves, which, the last time you climbed them as a five-year-old, had been able to support your weight.  But this time is different.  Just as you reach the top, the shelves collapse under you, sending you to the floor in a loud crash and sending dad’s belongings flying everywhere.  Mom rushes in, sees the mess, immediately understands what you were up to, and says those words, “Wait till your father gets home.”  The moment father gets home is not going to be pretty.


But on the other hand, let’s take a different example.  Imagine it’s your 9th birthday, and a package arrives at your door from Grandma and Grandpa.  (In this example, it’s important to note that you’re an 8-year-old boy.) The package has your name on it with the words “Happy Birthday.”  You tear it open with expectation, and you shout for joy when you discover the thing you’ve been begging for all year—a brand-new archery set.  “Wow!  A bow and arrows!  Can I go outside and shoot it, Mom?” you ask.  Mom, trying hard not to quell your glee nor to express her dismay that her in-laws have just gifted a child with a deadly weapon, says, “Wait till your father gets home.”  Now, the moment father gets home will be the best moment of your day, possibly the best moment of your whole life up to this point.


“Wait till your father gets home.”  The same words have two completely different effects on you, depending on the circumstances.  In a similar way, the Lord’s second coming at the end of time will have a completely different effect on those who are prepared for it, and those who are NOT prepared for it.


There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars…

And then they will see the Son of Man
coming in a cloud with power and great glory.[1]


This is how Jesus has foretold that he will come again.  And, as we heard a couple of weeks ago, we do not know the time or the hour.  But what we DO know is that he is coming again.  And when he does, it will be unmistakable.  We, who have been forewarned, will know exactly what is going down.  But that’s not the reaction everyone will have:


on earth nations will be in dismay,
perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.
People will die of fright
in anticipation of what is coming upon the world[2]


For those who were unprepared for the end of the world, it’s going to be absolute chaos.  There will be nowhere to run or hide, no time left to repent and turn to Jesus.  Time’s up, game over, no continues.


But for those of us who are prepared, we should have no cause for fear.  The Lord says, “Stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”[3]  It will be just like the boy joyfully expecting his father to return home.  It will be a day of reckoning, and our good deeds will shine like the sun in presence of the Lord’s glory.  When Jesus comes again, his glory will shine on the just and the unjust alike, to completely different effects.


It will be like shining a flashlight onto a mirror ball or into a dumpster.  The mirror ball scatters twinkling lights all around, making the room joyful.  But shining a flashlight into a dumpster reveals the filth, insects, and rodents who have made their home there.


If we want to reflect the glory of the Lord with joy on the Last Day, we have to prepare.  Now, that does not mean digging out a bunker under your house and filling it with dozens of guns and 15 years’ worth of non-perishable food.  These are the people we call “preppers.”  But that’s not what we need to be doing.  We are preparing for the second coming of Jesus Christ, not for a civil war or the zombie apocalypse.  How should we prepare, then?  It’s a preparation of the heart and soul.  Jesus says,


Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy
from carousing and drunkenness
and the anxieties of daily life,
and that day catch you by surprise like a trap…

Be vigilant.[4]


I love this command, to be vigilant.  It reminds me of the watchfulness required of a firefighter.  There’s this fire house in Fort Worth that I drove by the other day, and near the top it has the word, “Vigilance.”  The firefighter has to be watchful at all times, because at any moment he could be called upon to put out a terrible fire.  In fact, the Italian word for firefighters is i vigili del fuoco, or the “vigiliant ones” of fire.  They have to remain vigilant, and so do we, if we are to prepare our hearts to receive Jesus.


There are so many ways our hearts can grow callous and listless, to the point that we stop being vigilant, and we give up on the virtuous life, and instead sink into so many vices.


One way to stay awake and be vigilant this Advent is to read the lives and works of the Saints.  Find a new saint you’ve never known or return to an old favorite.  Let their stories inspire you once again.


Second, we can recommit ourselves to prayer.  Try to add 15 minutes a day to your current prayer routine.  Whether you use this time to read Scripture, pray a Rosary, or just have a conversation with Jesus in the silence, it will be time well spent.


Third, go to confession this Advent.  There will be penance services across the Diocese, and expanded confession hours in my parishes, so take advantage of it.


Lastly, to stay vigilant in the face of daily anxieties, try removing the source of your anxiety, if you can.  For example, if it’s watching/reading the news, then try giving it up for this month.  You’ll be surprised how your anxieties melt away.  This is how a disciple prepares for the coming of Christ.


This Advent, just as every Advent, there will be much to prepare for.  There will be lights to hang, trees to trim, and halls to deck.  There will be cookies to bake and gifts to wrap and boozy egg-nog to drink.  Just go easy on the egg-nog, eh?  Practice the virtue of temperance.


But amid all of the preparations, don’t forget the entire reason for all our preparations—the two comings of Jesus Christ.  At Christmas, we will celebrate his first coming as a baby, but we prepare today for his second coming in glory.


Stand up straight, raise your head, and be vigilant.  Then you will be prepared to receive Jesus when he comes in glory.


[1] Luke 21:25, 27

[2] Luke 21:25, 26

[3] Luke 21:28

[4] Luke 21:34-36