First Sunday of Advent – Year A 2022
[Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:37-44]
A few days ago, I was in the middle of a meeting, when, all of a sudden, everyone’s mobile devices started to buzz, beep, or ring simultaneously. We all stopped what we were doing and looked at our phones. It was the Alberta Emergency Alert. The signal had been sent out to every device, and it caused us to stop short and divert our attention away from what we were doing to focus upon the message.
I offer this incident to help us appreciate what is unfolding in the teaching we receive today from Jesus. He is issuing an urgent alert in order to draw our full attention away from whatever we are doing and toward what is of immediate and all-surpassing importance: his promised second coming. “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming … Therefore you … must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” A scriptural emergency alert.
As Christians, we live from the words of Jesus Christ. What he is telling us here is that, since he will come again at a time not of our knowing, we must be in a state of readiness for his coming. By readiness is meant living in fidelity to the Lord’s call to holiness and mission. St. Paul puts it this way: “Let us … lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires.” That is what it means to be ready. Yet it is easy to grow slack and complacent, and let our lives become distracted and disoriented by things and behaviours that draw us away from our Christian commitment. Hence, the need for an alert, a wake-up call, if you will, to re-direct our attention to what matters, and summon us to live according to the Word of God.
The emergency alert issued the other day during my meeting was a test, and people had been told beforehand that it would occur. Periodic testing ensures that the system is working properly. The season of Advent, which we enter today, functions somewhat like that. It occurs every year, we know it is coming, and the aim is to test our readiness in order to ensure that our Christian life is functioning well by remaining properly focused on the truths of our faith, especially the certain return of the Lord. During the four weeks of this holy season, it is true that we are preparing our hearts to celebrate Christmas, the first coming of Christ, beautifully foretold today by the prophet Isaiah. Yet these days are also given as an urgent reminder that Jesus Christ, the Son of God incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, will return, as he promised, as judge of the living and of the dead. At this time every year, Sacred Scripture reminds us not to be complacent, to wake up and be properly focused, and to remain both alert and ready.
To be clear, the readiness to which we are called is itself not periodic, something to which we pay attention only in these days of Advent. Our state of readiness must be constant. I recall a time when the emergency alert was not a test but the real thing. It occurred suddenly, in the middle of the night, and jolted me out of a sound sleep. There had been no prior notice. Jesus is teaching us that his return will be like that, occurring at any time without warning, and so cautions us against being found in that deep slumber we call sin, manifest in a self-complacent sleep-walking through life. Our state of readiness is therefore to be perpetual, not periodic.
Now, I’ve heard reports that, soon after the issuing of an emergency alert, whether a test or even the real thing, safety officials get inundated with complaints from members of the public, who object to having their routine disturbed. That’s rather strange, to say the least, given what could be at stake. All the more, let us be careful not to respond to the Word of God in the same way, particularly at those moments when it jolts us out of a way of life we have set for ourselves. The Word of God, however jarring, must at all times be received with welcome and thanksgiving, since what is at stake is our eternal salvation.
Above all must we be ready to welcome with joy the very person of Jesus himself. He who first came among us by his incarnation and birth, he who will come again at the end of time, draws near to us now in the sacraments of the Church, especially here in the Eucharist. He who calls us to be ready acts in our lives to make us ready by the gift of his mercy, so much does he want us to be with him forever. As we receive him in Holy Communion, may his love once more jolt us awake, alert us anew to God’s saving purpose, and enable us to live in holiness, ready for his return.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
St. Joseph’s Basilica
November 27th, 2022