(Isaiah 2:1-5, Matthew 24:37-44, Romans 13:11-14)
“‘You must wake up now,’ St Paul says to the Christians in Rome. Similarly, Our Lord warns his disciples to ‘stay awake’. Staying awake, fighting off the need to sleep, is not always easy. The exhausted disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane couldn’t keep awake even for an hour. Children on Christmas Eve try hard to stay awake, hoping to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus, but inevitably their eyes close long before he arrives. We all need a refreshing sleep at the end of a day’s work.
WATCHING THEIR FLOCKS AT NIGHT
Surely sleep deprivation is not what Jesus wants for his followers. It is more a matter of being watchful, aware and ready to respond to events. Those shepherds who were the first witnesses of Christ’s birth were watching their flocks at night. It was dark and no doubt they nodded from time to time, but it was important to keep the sheep under careful surveillance. Because they were alert they were able to receive the angels’ announcement, prompting them to go and see the Christ Child.
THE THREE MAGI WERE ALSO ON CONSTANT WATCH
The Magi in their distant observatories were also on constant watch. They must have been routinely scanning the sky, plotting on their charts the positions of stars and planets. Had they not been vigilant they would have overlooked the bright star and missed the opportunity to find the Child whose birth it indicated.
During Advent we focus on that birth, the coming of Jesus into our world, but in the Gospel for today Jesus is talking about his second coming. We know he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead but we have no clue to when this will happen, so he urges us to be prepared. ‘Stand ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’ How can we maintain a state of readiness? By keeping watch on our behaviour and on what is going on around us.
IT’S A BIT LIKE DRIVING A CAR
It’s a bit like driving a car: we need to be aware always of what is happening behind and in front of us, how we interact with other road users and what dangers there might be. We watch the road ahead so that we can anticipate any problems and react promptly, knowing that carelessness or inattention could result in disaster. On our spiritual journey we need to be alert, keeping careful watch over what we say and do and the situations in which we may find ourselves.
‘THOSE OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTIES’
St Paul says: ‘Let us live decent lives: no drunken orgies, licentiousness, wrangling or jealousy.’ I wonder whether he was thinking about those office Christmas parties! Sadly, for some people the purpose of the four weeks leading up to Christmas is to get drunk as often as possible. Celebrations and parties are fine but be alert, be aware – and be ready to leave.
‘WRANGLING AND JEALOUSY’
Wrangling and jealousy? Surely not! But in fact the weeks of preparation for Christmas can often be a time of tension and arguments within families. Who is being invited for Christmas dinner? Who had the in-laws last year? Why do I have to do everything? It can all become very competitive, as children demand more and more expensive presents. We can start to feel like St Martha, overwhelmed with chores, becoming indignant about it and losing sight of the ‘one thing necessary’, a spirit of prayer. We need to be aware of this danger and be on our guard.
THE DANGER OF SLEEPWALKING THROUGH LIFE
It would be dangerous to sleepwalk through life, unheeding and unmindful. If we try, as St Paul advises, to live decent lives we should be ready to greet Our Lord whenever he comes. Of course, we don’t have to wait for the Second Coming. He comes to us in the Blessed Sacrament; he comes to us in little acts of love and kindness. If we are looking out for him, making time and space for him in our daily lives, he comes and makes his home with us. In the words of the Christmas carol, ‘Where meek souls will receive Him, still the dear Christ enters in.’ Let us try to be watchful and ready. –
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– This article by Br. Francis entitled “We must be alert on our spiritual journey” was published in “The Catholic Universe” issue Sunday 1st December, 2013. For subscriptions please visit http://www.thecatholicuniverse.com (external link).