First Advent

The Introduction 

I’ve known several people in the last few years who were told by their doctors they were terminally ill. In each case, these folks immediately made decisions about their lives that they’d been delaying until now. People who know they’re dying can’t afford to save anything until later. There may not be a ‘later’. There’s only now.

The rest of us are kidding ourselves if we think we’re not dying: not now, not any time soon, maybe never. When Jesus says ‘Be watchful!’, we think he means the other guy. We put our faith squarely in ‘later’. Some of us belong to the Church of Later, in which we fully intend to be good, spiritual, faithful people – at a future time to be announced.

Some of us may live to a satisfying old age and wear out with a smile. Some of us will get a deadline from our doctors and have some lead time to prepare. Many of us are left in the dark as to when we’ll die or how. This can make us sloppy about the way we live, even arrogant about it. Not taking death seriously is a real mistake in the spiritual life. The church’s wisdom is to remind us, right from the start of the church year, that mortality is just what it says it is: a short-term proposition.

What are the lessons that death teaches you?

Resolve to live this Advent season with watchfulness and attention. Miss no opportunity to be kind, generous, forgiving. Resist spiritual laziness with its shrug toward ‘later’. Be a saint in the making right now.

The Scripture (Mark 13: 35-37 The Necessity of Watchfulness)

‘So, stay at your post, watching. You have no idea when the homeowner is returning, whether evening, midnight, cockcrow, or morning. You don’t want anyone showing up unannounced, with you asleep on the job. I say it to you, and I’m saying it to all: Stay at your post. Keep watch!’

The Story – Enter the No-Fault Zone

She came to see me telling me she wanted to talk about the terrible difficulties her family were facing. Between her tears and her thick accent, she was not easy to understand. It was 20 minutes nonstop before she took a breath. And in that time, she had spoken almost entirely about herself. When she mentioned her husband’s lack of work, the drinking of her son’s wife, and the infidelity of her daughter’s boyfriend, it was only to emphasise to me how bad she must be living her life for God to be punishing her with all these problems. The she repeated those stories and that theme over again.

I told her gently that the God she was describing was not my God. God doesn’t punish others to get back at us. God uses us, with all our imperfections, to bring divine love to those in need. This is the hopeful message of the Advent season we are beginning. We are the work of God’s hands. So, we need to watch and be ready for the opportunity to be the tool to bring peace and presence to others in their difficult time. I assured her that even though she may not feel ready, God needed her to bring her family healing. God would give her, with all her imperfections, whatever she needed. God would keep her firm. The decision to act and help was hers to make.

The Reflection

When the devil wanted to ruin the lives of many people he called a meeting of his fallen angels and sought suggestions. ‘I will tell them there is no God,’ said the first. The devil replied, ‘Any sensitive and thinking person knows there is a God and this will not lead them astray’. A second said, ‘I will tell them there is no hell’. ‘What is the use of that?’ asked the evil one. ‘Everyone will experience a taste of hell and know that it is a reality’. A third then spoke up and said, ‘I will tell them there is no hurry. Put it off until tomorrow -for I know tomorrow never comes’. With this the devil was delighted and this is how most people fail to turn to God. Pablo Picasso said, ‘Never put off today anything that you do not want to leave undone for ever’.

The Commissioning

The joys and the hard places of the world await us, but we have been fed with spiritual food. We have been encouraged as a faith community.
We have been motivated to serve the powerless
We have been challenged as those who own the name of Jesus Christ.
We leave with Advent hope in our hearts.
The joys and the hard places of the world await us, but we have been fed with spiritual food.

GPBS © (2023)

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