First Sunday of Advent A
At the beginning of the month, Fr. Scott and I invited the men of the parish to join us in the Nazarite Challenge—a Catholic spin on “No-Shave November.” Taking part was more than an excuse to stop shaving for 30 days (men already had hunting season for that). Spiritual commitments were also part of the challenge, one of which was to give up something, to make a sacrifice, for the month.
As a household, Fr. Scott and I decided to give up drinking alcohol—something that was part of the original Old Testament Nazarite vow. But we each made an additional personal sacrifice, too. Fr. Scott gave up coffee (all caffeine, actually)…which has left me feeling like I need to sneak around whenever I want to drink a cup. I made a commitment to get right up with the alarm first thing in the morning—to be up and moving as soon as it goes off at 5:00am or 6:00am.
Ask anyone who attends the 6:45am daily Mass and they’ll tell you: it’s a struggle for me to get going in the morning. Kay Hall (a fine lady and parishioner here who died about a year and a half ago) walked to that early Mass well into her 90’s, and was always early. If she looked at her watch and it was 6:45am and there still wasn’t a priest standing at the altar, she’d say in a whisper loud enough for all to hear, “It must be Giroux again…”
I’ve tried all kinds of things over the years to improve in this area. Many a Lent I’ve given up the snooze bar…and that’s worked well enough for 40 days. Earlier this year, I bought this new alarm clock—the old fashioned kind, with two loud bells and no snooze bar. I put it clear across the room, so I have to get out of bed quickly to shut off all that racket!
Why is this such a struggle? What is it that keeps me in bed in the morning? Having some time to reflect on this, I’ve come up with four reasons—ones, I think, that can apply to every one of us at some time or another. Sometimes we stay in bed because we’re so very tired; whatever we did the day or the evening before has simply left us worn out. Sometimes we stay in bed because we’re lazy; there’s nothing that seems urgent enough to get us up and moving. Sometimes we stay in bed because we’re afraid; there’s something we must do during the coming day that we simply dread. And sometimes we stay in bed because it’s just so very comfortable: it’s warm and cozy and we don’t want to leave that behind.
Why am I telling you all of this? It’s not to give you some insights into your pastor’s sleeping habits. It’s because this idea of waking up and staying awake is the primary metaphor the Church puts before us on this First Sunday of Advent. In the second reading, we heard St. Paul write to the Romans, “Now is the hour for you to wake from sleep! The night is far spent; the day draws near. Let us cast off the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light!” And Jesus, too, tells us, “Stay awake! If the homeowner knew when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and prevented his home from being broken into. At an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
I think it’s safe to say that our Lord and his apostle aren’t primarily concerned with the time you roll out of bed each morning. What they’re trying to wake up is our soul. But those four things that tend to keep us in bed all apply in this context, as well.
Sometimes it’s fear that keeps us from making progress in the spiritual life: we’re afraid of the challenges and struggles that lie ahead. To that, we must respond with faith—believing less in the things that frighten us, and more in the God who will see us through. Sometimes we’re too tried and discouraged to work on growing in holiness: we feel weighed down by all that lies behind us. To that, we must respond with hope—keeping our eyes on the Lord’s promises that lead us on. Sometimes it’s laziness or indifference that prevent us from becoming the saints we’re called to be: we get distracted or don’t take it very seriously. To that, we must respond with deep love—tell me what you love, tell me what you’re passionate about, and I’ll tell you what gets you out of bed in the morning.
And sometimes, we’re just too comfortable to want to make the necessary changes in our spiritual lives: things aren’t as good as they could be, but they’re familiar. To faith, hope, and love, we need to add personal sacrifice. When our religion’s central symbol is the cross, when our primary image of God shows him hanging dead upon that cross, we must not be surprised that sacrifice is a crucial means toward growth.
So much for what we’re waking up from. Now to what we’re waking up for…
Everybody knows that four weeks from today it’s Christmas…which makes it clear enough that our Lord’s admonition to stay awake to greet an unknown day must concern something more than that. We want to be wide-awake for our Lord’s return at the end of time. Jesus Christ promised to come again, and that remains true almost 2,000 year later. Just as one eagerly anticipates the coming visit of an old friend, so we need to stay vigilant for Christ’s coming in glory. And we want to be wide-awake for the Lord’s coming at the end of each of our lives. No one knows in advance the day of his or her death, and we need to always be prepared lest we be surprised on the day Jesus comes to take us home.
But take note in this Sunday’s gospel of the example Jesus makes of the days of Noah, when people were eating and drinking and marrying, working out in the fields and grinding grain in the mill. They were simply doing the ordinary stuff of life…and I think the Lord mentions these things so that we won’t sleepwalk through his presence in our everyday lives, either: when we eat and drink, in our relationships, in work or school. Jesus is constantly coming to meet us—waiting around every corner—but we need to be alert and awake to recognize him.
Ringggg… That, my friends, is the sound of Advent. It’s a wake up call, a call to rise and shine. It’s the call to leave behind our fears and tired discouragement, our lazy difference and comfort zones. It’s the call of faith, hope, and love, expressed in generous sacrifice. It’s the call to be always alert and ready to meet Christ when he comes on the last day, when comes on my last day, when comes into my life today and everyday.