Every since I was a little kid I’ve always enjoyed travelling. The things of the world around me were absolutely fascinating. I particularly enjoyed plotting out our trips on a map of the road system, seeing how far places were from one another, arranging for stops at attractions, and the excitement of getting ready for the trip itself and all the unexpected things that surely awaited us. That time of preparation made the rest of the trip so much more enjoyable. And that is exactly what the Advent season should do for us as well. Advent, like other travels, has a goal in mind. But rather than a particular location, the goal is instead an encounter with the Lord Himself.
Listen again to the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways and we may walk in his paths.” Isaiah speaks of climbing to God’s house but it is only so that he can there come face to face with God and experience a conversion of his own heart. It is about encountering God.
In the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer today we will hear about the two coming of the Lord Jesus into this world. The first is the most obvious because ever since the day after Halloween we’ve see Christmas decorations up and the big sales going on around us. That first coming into time as an infant is what we look forward to in the celebration of Christmas. Additionally, we are mindful of the Second Coming of the Lord when He comes in His glory to raise up the dead and make the final judgment of our souls, which the Lord speaks to in the Gospel we just heard. Those are the two ‘comings’ of Christ into time and this Advent season is a time for us to prepare for those two events. But in order to prepare for those two comings, it is helpful for us to pay special attention to what is often known as the ‘third coming’ of Jesus – or maybe, more accurately the first and a half coming? – as we encounter Him in varied ways each day. If we look at where we are today with the Lord, we can truly be prepared as He desires for His coming at Christmas and the end of time.
That is what the words of Saint Paul challenge us to today: “It is now the hour to wake from sleep.” Now, I’m not a morning person. That is clear to me. It is also clear to Father Vincent, who is always wide awake, dressed up, eating breakfast, and reading the newspaper when I stumble through the dining room blurry eyed and shrinking back from the bright lighting. To his chipper “Good morning!” He always receives the same response: a half-spoken, half-grunted “morning.” To put it nicely, I’m not a great conversationalist at 6 or 6:30 in the morning. I can do it, but it’s sure not going to be pretty. And that’s with most things when I’m sleepy. I can do all sorts of things; I just won’t do them very well. And the same can happen in our spiritual lives. Thus the challenge from St. Paul to wake up, to become alert and not simply do things but strive to do them well. That’s what this Advent season is able to help us with. Lent is a time of intense conversion, of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Advent, too, is a season of conversion but not quite to the severity of Lent. That’s why I think it is good for us to reflect in this time not on the new things we can do so much as being sure that what we already do we do well.
When we come to Mass do we get here ahead of time to settle ourselves from the things that often worry us? Do we listen to the readings and try to enter into the prayers? Do we come with intentions on our heart expecting God’s grace to help us?
When we pray our rosary, chaplet or some set of daily prayers, do we really encounter God, Our Lady, the angels and saints or do we content ourselves with passing the beads and flipping to the next holy card?
It’s easy to become a bit drowsy in our spiritual life and to fall into the pattern of simply checking off the pious practices that we do rather than look at how well we do them, but that is the most important part. In the Gospel today Jesus tells us that when He comes again there will be two men at work, one will be taken and the other left. There will be two women at work, one will be taken and the other left. From the outside the people are doing exactly the same thing, yet there is a difference between the two and that difference is only apparent in our hearts. It is better to pray a few things fervently than to pray many things half-heartedly. So how are we doing? Is there some specific place in our life that the Lord might be inviting us to strengthen during these next few weeks?
To make it more concrete, I’ll go back to not being a morning person. That has an effect on my willingness to pray my morning prayers like I intend to do but often fail because I hit the snooze button a few times. So yesterday morning I rearranged my room and put my prie dieu (kneeler) next to my bed and put my alarm clock on the opposite side of it so that if I want to choose sleep over prayer, I have to walk past my place of prayer twice. That changed the way I woke up this morning. It’s a small action, but that is often how the Lord works.
So let us focus on our encounter with the Lord today, right now. May the Eucharist we celebrate and receive give us the grace to continue to prepare our hearts for his two comings by encountering Him more and more deeply each day of this Advent. And may He come to us quickly and without delay. Come, O come, Emmanuel.