The keyword of this gospel is “watch”. Jesus uses that word three times: “Be watchful! Be alert! […] Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming […] What I say to you, I say to all, ‘Watch!’” And as he talks about this watchfulness, it is pretty clear that he is talking about an active watching. This isn’t a passive watching like watching the sun set or watching the seasons change, this is the active watching of a servant or a gatekeeper waiting for their master to return and eager for everything to be prepared. It’s kind of like when you are waiting for company to come over back in those pre-pandemic days, as you straightened the house and maybe tended to the food cooking while watching for a car to pull in the driveway.
What is Jesus saying we should be watchful for, though? Long before this gospel, Isaiah lamented that his people had stopped being watchful, had stopped being mindful of their ways. He says their good deeds were polluted and they had withered like leaves as no one called upon the name of the Lord. Isaiah prayed that the Lord would rend the heavens and come down with the mountains quaking before him. That doesn’t sound like the quiet night and an infant being born in a manger. It in fact sounds much more like what Jesus is telling us about, the day when the lord of the house is coming. Or what St. Paul talked about in the second readings, telling us that having been enriched in every way by the grace of God we will be kept firm to the end, and irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The four weeks of Advent ahead of us can help us understand that day as we meditate on what God has already done in this world and the realness of Christmas. We believe by faith and by apostolic witness that God entered into His own creation, took on human flesh so that we could be confident that we know Him. We know that He made us, we know that He loves us, and we know that He is going to completely restore all of creation on the day our Lord Jesus Christ returns. If Christmas was real then what we wait for is not beyond imagination. The heavens rending apart and the mountains quaking may be poetic ways of describing that day which ear has not heard and eye has not seen… but it is our hope, indeed our faith, that the day of our Lord Jesus Christ is coming with all the glory of our God.
How do we watch for that day? How do we watch with the activeness of a servant and the firmness of a Christian? I think the start of an answer is to think about what kind of church, what kind of society, what kind of world will be here when that day comes. Jesus said the master left his servants in charge, each with his own work, and so the world that we create matters. In his recent encyclical Pope Francis took up just that problem of transforming the world. He encouraged us to have friendship created by true dialog and recognizing every human person’s profound dignity. He talked about kindness. Simple kindness can be the tool that we use to begin that great work. Kindness leads to listening, which can lead to open relationships of seeking to understand each other.
So I have a new Advent devotion for you to try: this Advent, make a friend. Learn the name of a cashier, wave at a neighbor and ask how they are doing, call up someone you have been meaning to give a call to… some act of kindness to another human being that recognizes that they are there, they exist, and that you wouldn’t mind knowing some of their story.
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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.