Be Watchful! Be Alert!

12-03-2017From the Pastor's DeskRev. Msgr. Ellsworth R. Walden

One of the amazing things about looking at ourselves through the eyes of faith is that we see how much hope we have and how much energy and purpose there is in our lives. There is a verse from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes that sounds pessimistic, but can be seen also in a very positive light: “What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun!” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

Looking at this statement as people of the twenty-first century we can readily refute it. Our case is made as we tout the wonders of computers, iPhones, and all the other instruments that enable us to communicate, research, shop, travel, and learn. But as much as we have much to be thankful for in the world of technology, still, on a relational level as human beings, what was before is now and will be again. We bemoan the technology that enables us as human beings to wreak havoc on one another. There is scarcely a week where we do not see violence and death taking the lives of so many innocent people. The weapons of today are very efficient at maiming and killing. Behind these physical acts of violence is misguided human anger, prejudice, spite, cruelty, and insanity. Our human history is full of accounts of wars, revolutions, uprisings, injustice, and protests that have caused suffering and sorrow. Sadly, our national government in Washington, D.C. continues to point fingers at what they perceive to be the incompetency and stupidity of people in the opposing political party. They use the weapons of insults, mocking, and pride that consumes their time and energy to the point where we the people who have elected them are not their main focus. But as much as we can and do focus on the negative in our world and in the lives of one another, there is “nothing new under the sun” from the viewpoint of love and sacrifice. Every day far more sacrificial acts and acts of kindness and love give life to us and through us.

Today we begin the liturgical journey to Christmas as we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent. “What has been that will be done” from the viewpoint of enriching and guiding our lives. The first reading from today’s Mass is from the prophet Isaiah and his words are as relevant and helpful today as they were when they were first spoken 2,700 years ago. In this reading Isaiah proclaims the good news that God is our Father and redeemer. Because of God’s goodness and love, He freed His chosen people from slavery and brought them to the Promised Land. It was the hand of God and the love of God that made them who they were and brought them to a place where they would never have been otherwise. But as Isaiah observes the attitude of his fellow chosen people he sees that they have wandered away from God: “You, LORD, are our father, our redeemer you are named from of old. Why do you make us wander, LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we do not fear you?” (Isaiah 63:16-17) God did not make His people wander, they adopted the attitude of the first two human beings created, Adam and Eve, and thought they were smarter than God and thought they did not need God. We face the same attitude today.

But Advent is the antidote. It is our time to reflect on the hopes of the Jewish people and all people, including ourselves, for a Savior. At this point we are well into the swing of Christmas preparations materially. Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone. Billions of dollars have been spent. More and more Christmas decorations are adorning houses and yards. The real call of Advent is to see the love hoped for and spent on us by God. In Old Testament times, many prophets sent by God were ignored and some even persecuted. But God never gave up, He never stopped loving. In the first reading today Isaiah hits the nail on the head as he says, “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!” The challenge is to take a time out from the commercial and material side of Christmas to see why we are doing these things anyway. Today’s Gospel begins with Jesus saying: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” We do know when Christmas will come - December 25th. But do we know the full meaning of who Jesus is and why He has come? The best way we can prepare for Christmas is to find some quiet time where we can look at our lives and see where we have been blessed by the presence of Jesus. Would that the billions of dollars spent to shop for Christmas were matched by billions of minutes of prayerful reflection. Prayer takes us out of ourselves into the presence of God. The more sincere we are, the more we become amazed at how good it is to have the gift of faith that opens our minds and hearts to the gift that Jesus truly is. His love is not overpowering and controlling, but humble, life giving, and nurturing. His love can be ignored and forgotten, but He is always ready to welcome us into His presence and into His life with the Father and Holy Spirit.

The celebration of Christmas is magnified by the joy and hope only our faith brings to us. Without a vibrant faith, our Christmas preparations and celebrations will leave us happy but grateful that we can get back to our usual daily routines. But if our usual daily routines have the presence of Jesus as the foundation our celebration of Christmas, the coming of God into our world and into our lives, takes place every single day. The decorations will come down, the gifts will be used, but the joy of the gift of Jesus in our lives will inspire, sustain, and guide us to give thanks for the opportunity to be enriched by such love and to enrich others with the same love, day in and day out. May this Advent be a time where we heed the words of Jesus, words of love, concern, and hope: “Be watchful! Be alert!” In His love He is watchful for us and alert to our needs for His love and presence in our minds and hearts. How good it is to see His loving presence and concern for us in all we say and do each day. That is the result of the vision and gift of faith, faith which leads us through a fruitful Advent to a joy-filled Christmas. “What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun!” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). God’s love always was and will always be! What a great Advent thought to reflect on!

Fr. Wald