Nov 27, 2010

1st Sunday of Advent - "Hurry up and wait!"

Readings (A)
Isaiah 2: 1-5
Romans 13: 11-14
Mt 24: 37-44

The military has a slogan that is often heard: “Hurry up and wait!” It can be applied in many ways but essentially means that those in the military, whatever branch of such, need to be constantly ready for anything – “hurry up.” Prepare and be ready for action. But, that action may be slow in coming so, we “wait” for the next step.

Well, the same can be applied to our firefighters, police, hospital emergency room personnel, and in one sense to us priests. If a phone call comes in from the relative of a dying person or a hospice nurse who feels their loved one is “actively dying,” we priests should be ready to move with the Oil for the Sick and Eucharist if possible to prepare that person as they move to meet their Lord.

That same sense of readiness is a part of our beautiful season of Advent, now once again upon us: “Hurry up” be prepared “and wait” on the Lord’s arrival. This year we have four full weeks of Advent to ready ourselves.

But, we are tempted during this time of year, when the entire month of December is marked as Christmas in our secular world, to loose the sense of the Advent season; or, at best to see it only as a Church thing and never learn from its richness.

The shopping madness of black Friday is not about waiting. It’s about moving quickly to pick up the latest sale price on the large screen TV, the computer, the toy, and to take advantage of the best bargain possible. (Relax, you’ll see the same prices or better before December 24th!). By contrast, the Church offers us this season of patient waiting upon the Lord in our midst.

The prophet Isaiah about 600 years before the coming of Christ is heard today: “In days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain . . .” (Is 2: 2). “In days to come. . .” In some future time. Isaiah leaves that an open ended prediction. He doesn’t give the calendar date or the hour and likely, he himself was not aware of when this prophecy would be fulfilled. Yet, he believed it would be – “In days to come . . .”

However, because technology has created our modern addiction for speed, such words from this ancient prophet may not be very popular. Five minutes of silence would drive many people crazy because we fill our day with distractions. We leave the TV on, the radio, CD in the player, or earphones in our ears because silence is unsetlling. Standing in line for more than 60 seconds produces dirty looks from shoppers. I’m as guilty as anyone on that because, “I’m too busy. I don’t have time to wait.” Thus, Advent dares us to stop, look, listen, and reflect upon the reason for this season.

We are not waiting for the birth of Christ at Christmas. Jesus has been there and done that 2,000 years ago. We live now in that in-between time beyond Our Lord’s first coming but waiting on his return. So, we can not remain stuck in some sentimental remembrance of a child’s birth.

Christmas is a snapshot of God’s amazing love for humanity. Baby pictures are wonderful but Jesus is now the risen Lord and savior whose coming has changed the course of history for all time. We long for the day when he will come again – not as an infant in a manger but as Lord of heaven and earth. Advent, then, is a look back and a look forward. When will the time be that he returns? We have no idea. Like Isaiah, it will be “In days to come . . .”

St. Paul’s advice to all Christians alludes to that time and how we should prepare for it. Paul advises, “. . . it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed . . . throw off the works of darkness (sin) and put on the armor of light (Christian virtue) . . .” (Rm 13: 12 ff). We are closer to the second coming of Christ than St. Paul and the ancient Roman Christians. In our lifetime? Who knows? So, we need to "hurry up and wait" but be busy about the Lord's work in the here and the now.

Also, Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel warns us of the fate of those who were just too busy to prepare. (Too much Christmas shopping?) “In those days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage . . .They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away (the sin of indifference). . .” (Mt. 24: 37 ff).

Such Biblical hyperbole is not meant to frighten but to wake us up to the importance of paying attention. To be ready to welcome and recognize the signs of Christ among us. It call us to conversion of heart and life so we may be worthy to celebrate that God has entered our history (Christmas) and, as a result, it all means something – something both serious and joyful for our lives.

Our Eucharist is the sign of God’s promise that although we look forward, we must also see him in the here and now. Bread and wine is a living sign that although the future will uncover in fullness what is now hidden, faith guarantees for us that Jesus abides with us and his Church today. So, “Hurry up and wait” on the Lord. Wake up! The best is yet to come.