“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. ..Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and we are told, once again, to keep alert, to keep watch. We need to be faithful, to not wait by sitting and doing nothing, but to actively prepare for the coming one by doing those things that create in us a space, first to see Jesus when he comes, second, to be ready to receive him in the most unlikely of places, and third to be ready for our lives to be changed quickly and completely by his presence.
Again, this does not mean failing to be active. It does not mean sitting and waiting. “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.” It means watching from a place of being ready, of living fully, of being ready for the coming of Christ.
We just don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I am reminded of the passage from Mitch Albom’s book, “for one more day” in which his characters have this dialogue,
“Life goes quickly, doesn’t it Charley?”
“Yeah” I mumbled.
“It’s such a shame to waste time. We always think we have so much of it.” I thought about the days I had handed over to a bottle. The nights I couldn’t remember. The mornings I slept through. All that time spent running from myself.
We may struggle with different things, different issues, different situations. But we all struggle with something. If we knew that our life would end tomorrow, what would we do differently? More to the point, if we knew that Jesus was coming tomorrow, what would we do differently? If we knew that our world was about to turn on its head, that the prince of peace, our wonderful counselor, the alpha and omega, the God of love were coming tomorrow, what would we do differently?
During Advent we prepare by remembering that God came to us as a baby, helpless, little, innocent, new, and to an unexpected mother in an unexpected time and place. We remember that those with eyes to see did see and were blessed in the seeing. We remember that others were threatened, but mostly people just didn’t know, couldn’t comprehend that God would choose to come to us in this unusual way. We prepare, we wait and watch, by remembering all of this.
But the thing is, God does come anew each day if we have eyes to see God. Part of being ready to see God is being prepared to see God, is being open to seeing God. Where is God moving today in your life? Where is God showing up today in your life? During Advent we are reminded to pray, to ask, to be able to see God’s presence, care, love, amazing grace when it comes each day. And sometimes we do see it. And what about when we can’t?
Father John Powell, a professor at Loyola University in Chicago, wrote this about a student in his Theology of Faith class named Tommy:
Some twelve years ago, I stood watching my university students file into the classroom for our first session in the Theology of Faith. That was the day I first saw Tommy. He was combing his long flaxen hair, which hung six inches below his shoulders.
It was the first time I had ever seen a boy with hair that long.
I guess it was just coming into fashion then. I know in my mind that it isn't what's on your head but what's in it that counts; but on that day. I was unprepared and my emotions flipped.
I immediately filed Tommy under "S" for strange... Very strange.
Tommy turned out to be the "atheist in residence" in my Theology of Faith course.
He constantly objected to, smirked at, or whined about the possibility of an unconditionally loving Parent God. We lived with each other in relative peace for one semester, although I admit he was for me at times a serious pain in the back pew.
When he came up at the end of the course to turn in his final exam, he asked in a cynical tone, "Do you think I'll ever find God?"
I decided instantly on a little shock therapy. "No!" I said very emphatically.
"Why not," he responded, "I thought that was the product you were pushing."
I let him get five steps from the classroom door and then I called out, "Tommy! I don't think you'll ever find (God), but I am absolutely certain that (God) will find you!" He shrugged a little and left my class and my life.
I felt slightly disappointed at the thought that he had missed my clever line – (God) will find you! At least I thought it was clever.
Later I heard that Tommy had graduated…Then a sad report came. I heard that Tommy had terminal cancer. Before I could search him out, he came to see me.
When he walked into my office, his body was very badly wasted and the long hair had all fallen out as a result of chemotherapy. But his eyes were bright and his voice was firm, for the first time, I believe.
"Tommy, I've thought about you so often; I hear you are sick," I blurted out.
"Oh, yes, very sick. I have cancer in both lungs. It's a matter of weeks."
"Can you talk about it, Tom?" I asked.
"Sure, what would you like to know?" he replied.
"What's it like to be only twenty-four and dying?
"Well, it could be worse.
"Well, like being fifty and having no values or ideals, like being fifty and thinking that booze, seducing women, and making money are the real biggies in life.”
I began to look through my mental file cabinet under "S" where I had filed Tommy as strange. (It seems as though everybody I try to reject by classification, God sends back into my life to educate me.)
"But what I really came to see you about," Tom said, "is something you said to me on the last day of class." (He remembered!) He continued, "I asked you if you thought I would ever find God and you said, 'No!' which surprised me. Then you said, 'But (God) will find you.’ I thought about that a lot, even though my search for God was hardly intense at that time… "But when the doctors removed a lump… and told me that it was malignant, that's when I got serious about locating God. And when the malignancy spread into my vital organs, I really began banging bloody fists against the bronze doors of heaven. But God did not come out. In fact, nothing happened. Did you ever try anything for a long time with great effort and with no success?
You get psychologically glutted, fed up with trying. And then you quit.
"Well, one day I woke up, and instead of throwing a few more futile appeals over that high brick wall to a God who may be or may not be there, I just quit. I decided that I didn't really care about God, about an afterlife, or anything like that. I decided to spend what time I had left doing something more profitable. I thought about you and your class and I remembered something else you had said:
'The essential sadness is to go through life without loving..’
But it would be almost equally sad to go through life and leave this world without ever telling those you loved that you had loved them.
"So, I began with the hardest one, my Dad. He was reading the newspaper when I approached him.
"Yes, what?" he asked without lowering the newspaper.
"Dad, I would like to talk with you."
"I mean. It's really important."
The newspaper came down three slow inches. "What is it?"
"Dad, I love you, I just wanted you to know that." …
"The newspaper fluttered to the floor. Then my father did two things I could never remember him ever doing before. He cried and he hugged me. We talked all night, even though he had to go to work the next morning."
“It felt so good to be close to my father, to see his tears, to feel his hug, to hear him say that he loved me."
"It was easier with my mother and little brother. They cried with me, too, and we hugged each other, and started saying real nice things to each other. We shared the things we had been keeping secret for so many years."
"I was only sorry about one thing --- that I had waited so long."
"Here I was, just beginning to open up to all the people I had actually been close to..
"Then, one day I turned around and God was there.
"(God) didn't come to me when I pleaded with (God). I guess I was like an animal trainer holding out a hoop, 'C'mon, jump through. C'mon, I'll give you three days, three weeks."
Apparently God does things in (God’s) own way and at (God’s) own hour.
"But the important thing is that God was there. God found me! You were right. God found me even after I stopped looking..."
That’s the grace of Advent. God comes even when we aren’t looking. God shows up even when we don’t feel anything is different or anything has changed. We are called especially during advent to prepare for that coming. To wait, to watch, to look. My prayer then for us all is that we have the eyes to see when God comes, each and every time. Amen.