Stay Awake!

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A homily for the first Sunday of  Advent,.December 1, 2013 from Fr. George Berendt, PIME.

Readings:Is 2:1-5; Rom 13:11-14; Mt 13: 11-14.

BUT OF THAT DAY AND HOUR NO ONE KNOWS

  • St. Martin of Tours said the world would end before 400 A.D.
  • Hippolytus of Rome said Jesus would return in 500 A.D.
  • St. Gregory of Tours said the world would end between 799 and 806 A.D.
  • Pope Sylvester II said the world would end on January 1, 1000 A.D. People  rioted in Rome and other European cities.
  • Martin Luther said 1600 A.D. was our planet’s last act.
  • Cotton Mather fixed the earth’s last hurrah on 1697.
  • In 1967 Pat Robertson told his followers the end was coming in 1982.
  • Charles Berlitz, the linguist, said the end was coming on 1999 but continued selling his language lessons. Who’s going to be around speaking any language after that date anyway? Go figure!
  • Jerry Falwell was getting ready for the end on January 1, 2000. Do you remember Harold Camping? He said that he studied his Bible and it told him that the world’s end was coming on May 21, 2011. Then when it didn’t happen he said he miscalculated what he read in the Bible. It was coming on October 21, 2011. Sorry! His excuse? He said his math was faulty. Pity the fools who sold their homes and gave away all their money in the belief he was correct. They were destitute and homeless on October 22nd of that same year.

Well folks, the sun rose again this morning and I assume will set again this evening. Life goes on.

Fr. Ron Rolheiser, in his book The Shattered Lantern (p. 133) puts it crisply: “Nothing will last. All is time-bound between birth and death.” In other words, everything has a beginning and everything has an ending.

Four billion years ago the lights went on in our Milky Way galaxy. In another  billion years our sun will begin to die. It will become a red giant, expanding to consume Mercury and Venus and perhaps our earth, but even if it doesn’t, it will bake us to a crisp. Then it will quickly shrink and turn into a white dwarf. Unanchored by this new phase, the sun’s gravity will no longer keep us close to it and so we will float out into the absolute cold and dark of deep space. If there’s other intelligent life out there and they encounter this space cinder they will never know if life ever existed on this mysterious space rock. It will all be burnt away. As Fr. Rolheiser says: “…all is time bound…”

Today we begin our Advent season preparing us for the year 2014. It begins in a strange way. It seems that the disciples of Jesus are wondering if the world is going to end. What was going on in their world to cause them to wonder if they were living in the “end times?”

So many of our own generation seem troubled and disturbed by the events that are happening all around them and seem to lack hope. They surrender themselves to a type of pessimism and see the end nigh. It seems to me that the early disciples had troubled hearts like many people in our day and age who have become overwhelmed by the violence, mayhem and upheavals they see all around them. Our generation’s “doomsday preppers” dig deep holes in the earth and stockpile essential grub and ammo while the disciples turn to Jesus and ask him if their days are the last days of the earth. Can he calm their troubled hearts and minds?

Now, Jesus was no scientist or astrophysicists. Also he had no inkling of what modern astronomers – with all their satellites, science, and telescopes – have discovered and now know about the cosmos, its beginnings, its evolution, and its expiration. All Jesus could say with certainty is that when the event called “the coming of the Son of Man” happens, it will happen like a “thief in the night.” It will happen suddenly and unexpectedly. We do not know when it will happen and so there is no human way to prepare for this great cosmic event just as we cannot prepare for something that will happen a billion years from now. The when of this happening is unknowable to us. The only thing we know with some confidence is the how it will come. It will come upon us like the great flood in the days of Noah. What does this mean?

In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus saw humanity caught up in the everyday affairs of life. As in the days of Noah, the people in Jesus’ era went about doing what life demanded of them. They sowed the fields, caught and dried fish, pressed the grapes to make wine, ground the wheat to make flour and then baked the bread so they could eat and drink. They fell in love, looked for a life mate and took and gave themselves in wedlock and gave birth to the next generation. In other words, like all peoples in all times, the demands of life filled their days and their hearts.

Now there is nothing wrong or evil with these things. Life, human existence, family life – all make demands and we must respond to them. Life must go on! The only snag is that life can be all consuming. Life is distracting!

Even in our modern age with all these machines and conveniences to help us, we’ve all heard a soccer mom lament her lack of time, an office worker complaining that he needs 25 hours in the day to get all of his work done, or a young person complaining that he or she is just too busy to help clean the garage or straighten up his or her room since so much still has to be done at school and with friends.

The business of our lives, just like the business in the lives of people in Noah’s and Jesus’ times, prevents us from knowing something deeper and more profound and so we too get “swept away” just like them. Just like them we are caught unawares. This is where the “men in the field” and the “women grinding wheat” enter. Preparing for the day of the Lord doesn’t mean dropping what we are doing and high-tailing it to a church to pray more or even to increase religious undertakings. So what is the difference between the man and woman taken and the man and the woman left? Externally the men and women are the same, doing the same activity. Outwardly all four are doing the same good work that life demands from them: working the field and grinding the grain. Thus the only difference then must be internal, interior.

This is where Jesus delivers the punch line of this Sunday’s parable to his audience then and to us today. It’s a simply piece of advice: “stay awake!” All we know with any certainty is that when the end comes, when that great apocalyptic consummation engulfs us, when the King of kings descends with the angels, it will come down upon us like a great flood, just like the flood caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 that assaulted our East coast or the typhoon that hit the Philippines this year. In order not to be swept away by the flood or left behind in the field or at the grain mill, we must prepare for this great event every day of our lives. Not to be ready for this great day is to suffer great consequences.

The only great event I can prepare for and have some control over is my own death and I’m pretty sure that will happen long before created reality ends. With the years I am given it is important that I “stay awake.” It is this great event that I must prepare for and so as I plow the field, sow the seed and reap the harvest of my life, as I grind the grains of my daily activities I prepare myself internally for that inevitable day that is sure to come. I want to be ready for the “great flood” caused by my death that will carry me away to the bosom of my Lord. And so, I don’t allow the preoccupation of daily life to overwhelm me.

Advent is a wonderful time to set time aside and do the needed internal preparations to meet the Lord when he finally comes to carry us away at the end of our earthly lives. This is the daily preparation all of us must do in order not to be swept away, unprepared. I can’t prepare for something that will happen a billion years from now, but I sure can prepare for something that might happen tomorrow.

I want to conclude with a quote from Paul Tillich on his concept of waiting.

He wrote: Although waiting is not having, it is also a kind of having. The fact that we wait for something shows that in some way we already possess it.

So as all of us wait on the coming of the Son of Man to carry us away by our own demise and earthly end, we wait by preparing ourselves for it. If we do so we already possess a part of that which we wait for and is sure to come, which is life eternal in Christ.

Sleepy heads, stay awake for you do not know the day and the hour!

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