It is Advent.
Now sometimes it’s complicated, needs to be studied, assessed, debated, dissected and interpreted. But… sometimes, it just is what it is… right there in black and white. Clear as day.
You might feel that today’s Gospel message from Matthew is neat and tidy in that manner. Jesus said to his disciples that you never know precisely when he, the Son of Man, would return and so it’s best to always, and I mean always, be prepared. Jesus cites some fairly terrifying examples to make the point: two men out working in a field and suddenly one is gone. Two women grinding at a mill and then just like that, one disappears. It sounds more like a “Twilight Zone” episode than a Gospel reading. In any event, we don’t know when that precise moment will come, so we need to be prepared.
Advent is about preparation, so we would certainly do well to heed this warning. We must be prepared. Simple. But life happens. We have our work to do, our challenges, our disappointments, our joys… and so we can get distracted by all that. We can forget.
Don’t forget! Do you want to be the star of a “Twilight Zone” episode? Tie a piece of string around your finger, write the words “it could happen at any moment” on a post it note and stick it to your bathroom mirror, put an alarm on your phone… heck, it’s so important and this particular Gospel is so incredibly clear about it, get a big black tattoo with Matthew 24: 37-44 on your left forearm so that you never, ever, ever forget. Done.
Advent is about preparation. Preparation for the coming of the Son of Man. We just had Black Friday and tomorrow is Cyber Monday. We have to get ready for Christmas, we have to decorate, make plans, buy gifts, do all those thing we have to do to get ready, to be prepared, right?
Yesterday, I watched my neighbor hang some Christmas lights out in front of his house and it occurred to me that although I love Christmas lights, they are a poor representation of the true light that Jesus brings into the world and into our lives. Advent and all those things I mentioned about preparing for Christmas are poor representations of what it really means to prepare for Christmas.
So… you can take that string off your finger, pull down the post-it note, delete the alarm on your phone and for goodness sake, get that ugly tattoo on your arm removed (I mean, what were you thinking?).
True preparation in this season calls for quiet reflection… consideration of the true light that entered the world.
It is Advent.
Today, instead of going home to prepare a shopping and to do list for Christmas, why not go home are prepare a… let’s call it a “Real Christmas List”? It might include a few of these items:
Make a true confession for all of our sins, including those we have been unwilling to say out loud or admit, maybe even to ourselves.
Contemplate our charity and generosity to those who have less than we do.
Consider whether we make judgements about others when Jesus is quite clear on the matter of whether we ought to do that or not.
Think about all of the relationships in our lives that need mending. Those who we need to forgive. Those to whom we need to ask for forgiveness.
Be honest with ourselves about whether we kind of like being overly busy this time of year or even just in general because sometimes that is easier than taking a step back and really focusing on our prayer life, our relationship with Jesus.
Now that is a Christmas list. That is being prepared. And that is Advent.