I hope you all had a blessed and relaxing Thanksgiving. I’m sure it was different than any other Thanksgiving in the past and I’ll be impressed if you tell me that you got through Thanksgiving without talking about COVID. On Thanksgiving, I found myself sitting around a kitchen counter with some friends as they were talking about how difficult this year was. At one point some looked at me and asked, well Father, what’s the good news? He said “what did you preach about this morning … how are we supposed to be thankful in the midst of all of these challenges?”
Rather than just answer the question, I said I that I guarantee if you stop and think about it you will find plenty to be grateful for. So, we went around the counter recounting blessings that had happened even amidst the pandemic. When it came around to me, I said one of the greatest blessings of this pandemic is that it teaches us to open our eyes and notice things we have never noticed before. For example, I need to make sure I am stocked up on toilet paper, I need to find out who my closest friends are so I can have this so called support bubble, and I have to open my eyes to see how people’s little offers of assistance are actually major acts of assistance. I think this pandemic has taught us to open our eyes, to be aware of our surroundings, to be awake and alert to all the changes that are coming and hopefully to the most important things in our lives.
My friends, today’s Gospel is very short. Mark’s gospel today is only 95 words and 4 of those words are the verbs awake or watch. I think the message from Jesus is clear in today’s Gospel. We have to be alert; we have to be ready. Afterall whether we are ready or not the bright light of Jesus is going to enter into the darkness of this world, in just 26 days at Christmas. No doubt there will be some so-called experts who will try to cancel Christmas just as they tried to cancel thanksgiving. Yet, it is impossible to cancel Christmas. Jesus coming whether we are ready or not. Honestly, my fear for Christmas this year is not that we will have too many people coming to church and that we will not be able to gather safely, my fear is that we as Catholics won’t be ready for Christmas. That we as Catholics are not actually prepared to receive Jesus this Christmas season.
Has it dawned on you that you could miss Christmas? Sure, Christmas might be a little different this year due to the pandemic, but many of us are still going to go to Church, meet with family, open gifts etc. You can do all of those things and still miss Christmas. Afterall the majority of people missed the first Christmas. You guys know the story. Mary and Joseph, come into the city of Bethlehem and everyone missed Jesus. This child was born in a stable and the only people to visit were the shepherds out in the fields. The shepherds who were awake and alert witnessed Christmas while all the citizens missed the first Christmas.
Sadly, I don’t think allot of Christians are any different today. It’s so easy to get involved in grind of the Christmas season that Christmas comes and goes, and while we do all kinds of Christmassy things, we miss Christmas. You see if we don’t want to miss Christmas, we have to start preparing now. This is why the Church gives us this season of Advent, for the two Latin words Ad Venio, literally to come towards. Jesus wants to come towards us. The question is are we moving towards Him or are we backing away?
So often people will come to me and say I’m trying to find a relationship with Jesus, but He doesn’t seem to be there. When we look at their life, we begin to see that through their actions and the way they are living their life they are actually taking steps away from Jesus. Jesus is coming towards them, but they keep walking away. What about us? Are we taking steps towards Jesus?
It seems like the world wants to take one massive time out. We are told to just hold on, take a time out and this virus will pass. Maybe that works in the civil world, that’s a question for politicians and not me, but time outs don’t work in the spiritual life. You don’t get to hit the pause button on your faith. Either we are moving closer to Christ or we are falling behind, there is no middle ground.
Sure, it may feel like we are not making the progress that we want, but if we look closely, I think we will find we are making some progress. After all, if we are not moving backwards we are making progress. I learned this back in high school, when after tearing my calf, I found myself in aqua therapy. I don’t know if you are familiar with it, but they have these pools at are just a little bigger than a bathtub that is filled with jets. As you swim the jets that push against you so you swim in place. You could swim 5 miles and go absolutely nowhere, but the second you stop you would be pinned against the back wall of the pool. My friends, the same can happen in our life. We are moving forward, doing the best we can and even if it doesn’t seem like we are getting anywhere, but we can’t stop or we will get thrown way back. The choice for us to be prepared so that we can welcome Jesus when He comes towards us.
You see this first Sunday of advent is an opportunity for each of us to stop and ask am I moving towards Jesus or falling behind. If we are going to actually make progress we have to stop and ask ourselves what are those things that need to change in my life. Whether it is drastic things or small things, what are those things that are keeping me from running towards Christ? For my friends, “whenever we take a step toward Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there waiting for us with open arms.” The Church gives us this season of advent so that we don’t miss Christmas. I think the ultimate question then is are we going to be ready; are we going to be alert, are we going to be prepared, are we going to be awake like the shepherds to greet Christ or will we be like the citizens of the of Bethlehem and miss Christmas even when it is going on in front of us?
 Pope Francis. Evangelii Gaudium. Washington DC: USCCB. (2014) Pg. 1.