Today we begin the season of Advent. Advent is a season of preparation for the coming of Christ, not only for the coming of Christ at Christmas in four short weeks, but as our readings this week emphasize, this season is meant to help us to prepare for the 2nd coming of Christ, at the end of time. As the purple color of the vestments indicate as do the purple candles of the Advent wreath, Advent, like Lent, is a penitential season, a season in which we are called to conversion – to turn from sin and to turn toward Christ our savior. Our psalm response today captures the essence of the season, “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.” We have a need for conversion and we cannot convert ourselves. We need God’s help. Conversion doesn’t happen through willing it or through our own efforts but through a personal encounter with the Lord. “Let us see your face and we shall be saved.” In the first coming of Christ at the Incarnation, God answered this cry of the human heart. In becoming man, God took on a face that we could see. Our savior came with a human face. In the first reading from the prophet Isaiah, we hear the prophet lamenting the waywardness of God’s people. He wants God to intervene to make things right – to come down from heaven in an awesome way as he did on Mt. Sinai with the mountains quaking with thunder and fire. God, in the Incarnation does rend the heavens and come down, but he comes not with power and pomp, but in the weakness, tenderness, and the humility of a child. He reveals the face of God, the face of mercy. His face is no longer hidden from us.
Jesus’ instruction to his disciples is a message for the Church. “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” The parable of the man traveling abroad speaks of Christ who, rising from dead and ascending into heaven, has given his authority to the disciples. He has placed them in charge of his home – his church – with their own work to do and to watch – to prepare the church for his coming. This admonition applies not only to the hierarchy, but to all of us. We all have to be watching and awake – vigilant for the presence of Christ. The way we prepare for the 2nd coming of Jesus, as well as his coming to meet us at the end of our life on earth, is to be attentive to the presence of Christ among us here and now. He has promised that he will remain with us always until the end of time. Where do we see his face here and now? How do we become attentive to his presence here and now? The “gatekeeper” provides an interesting image. The gatekeeper is the one who manages the door to the house. This is where we all have responsibility for what we let into our “house” – not only the house of our own soul but the house we call our home. The gatekeeper is the first line of defense. He is the one who not only welcomes the guest but also sounds the alarm if there is danger on the horizon. The gatekeeper must be watchful on both accounts because what we let in can be a distraction from our duty. That we do not know when the Lord will return means that we are called to a constant state of preparedness. We cannot simply wait to prepare our house when he arrives at the gate. We have to be always ready to open when he comes and knocks. We have to be continually conscious of his presence. When we are asleep, we are unconscious. “Be conscious of me” is what Christ means when he says “Be alert” or “stay awake”.
Love is what determines our watchfulness, how alert we are, and our eagerness for the master to come. The lover is attentive to the beloved and longs to be with the beloved. This image comes to mind. When my nephew was not quite 4 years old, I babysat him on a night when my sister and her husband went out to celebrate their wedding anniversary. As hard as I could try, I could not get my nephew to go to bed. He wasn’t scared or crying. He just wanted to stay awake and wait for his mother to come back. He just would stand in front of the window and ask, “when is mommy coming back?” Isaiah identifies the problem, “Would that… we were mindful of you in our ways!” What made my nephew vigilant was that his mind was full of his mother – his consciousness was filled with her presence. It is the awareness that our life belongs to God the way a child intuitively knows that his life belongs his mother or his father that determines our alertness to the presence of Christ. How can we let Christ into our life more this Advent? How can we make space for the Lord to come? Like we do during Lent, what things can we fast from – keep out – so as to make more space for the Lord – to clear our minds and our hearts to hear him knocking? How about a fast from social media? Stay off Twitter, and Facebook. Turn off the news. Open the door to Christ. Spend some quiet time in adoration before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament on Wednesdays. Pray the Rosary. Read the Bible. Open your heart in prayer. Go to confession. Come to daily Mass and receive Holy Communion more frequently. It is not what we do that strengthens us for the 2nd coming but what we allow Christ to do in us here and now. When we open the door to Christ, he will give us grace and peace. St. Paul says to the Corinthians, “He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” God is faithful; God is our father, and we are called to fellowship with his Son. May we be awake this Advent to hear that call and be ready to open our hearts to him in the faces of those around us.