Isaiah 63:16B-17, 19B: 64:2-7
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
We hosted two other families for Thanksgiving this year, which means I spent the week of Thanksgiving like many of you – cleaning, cooking, and preparing. After the pomp and chaos, I settled in for a long weekend ready to rest (and eat more turkey). I stumbled upon a Hallmark-type Christmas movie centered on the predictable worldly pair falling in love as the snow flurries around them. At one part in the film, the lead female missed a warning sign on the banks of a lake not fully frozen and found herself stranded in the middle, ice skating, as the lake began to crack around her. As expected, the leading male arrived just in time to help her off the ice, admonishing her for missing the warning sign.
In an unexpected way, that scene in the low-budget film has me reflecting a lot on the connection between Advent and the stern warning our Lord gives us in the Gospel. “Be watchful! Be alert! … What I say to you all: ‘Watch!’”
The thing with warning signs, in whatever form they come, is that they give a sense of premonition. Something is up ahead. Be vigilant. Watch. Someone who has seen what may cause ruin and destruction has forewarned you to proceed with caution. And like the character in my Thanksgiving show, the consequences of missing that warning could be dire. But why does the Church proclaim this Gospel and these readings on the first Sunday of Advent this year? What are we coming up to that requires a warning sign?
In the first reading, I think we find our answer. We hear the beautiful truth that God is our Father, and we are the clay in His hands. It’s oozing with the motion and action of God moving towards us and inviting us into communion with Him and humanity crying out to the God they’ve offended. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that “God thirsts that we may thirst for Him” (CCC 2560 ). He is the one who always invites; our assent of faith is the response. We are being warned not to miss that.
Throughout the ages God incessantly calls out to His people, moving toward us, wooing our hearts even when we’ve gone astray. Even the prayers of the Psalms this Sunday show us this reality. “Lord, make us turn to you…” We aren’t praying for us to make the first move or even the courage to make a move on our own. We cry out to God as helpless infants – make us turn, Lord. Without Him we are, quite literally, nothing.
This love story in motion between God and humanity climaxes in the love of Christ. His warning is part of the invitation. It’s as if He’s saying, “divine love is in your grasp, don’t let this world cloud your vision and miss it!” As we walk step by step through the days of Advent, He’s reminding us to stay alert. Advent begins the liturgical year. It can also signify the beginning of a new foot forward in our own personal faith. It gives us the time to prepare for Christmas but also time to prepare our hearts to meet Christ when our time here is over. The season is caught up in both the beginning and end, the Alpha and Omega. We start the new liturgical year being reminded in the readings to always be ready for the end. We are both beckoned and warned. Called and cautioned.
With each step on the road we take, we hear Christ in the Gospel reminding us to be alert and to watch out for spiritual pitfalls in our daily lives. For me, this means taking time to weed out the tiny imperceptible moments of distraction that keep me from being ready at each moment to meet our Lord. For others, it might mean heeding warnings we’ve felt in certain relationships and cutting them off. Or perhaps it’s a call to remove once and for all certain bad habits preventing us from living life to the fullest. Whatever it is, we can be sure that the more we give in to God’s call to communion with Him, the more fully ourselves we will become.
The alternative, of course, is missing the warning sign and being caught off guard. In the cliched Christmas movie I watched, it involved meeting the man of her dreams. In our lives, however, it may mean meeting the Beloved of our hearts unprepared. Let’s take this season to listen to Christ’s warning in the form of spiritual invitation. Deep is calling on deep. Let us clean up our souls, prepare our hearts, and respond to Divine Love.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Help me to hear your voice.
Touch me once again.
Give me the courage to be your beloved.
Give me courage to choose joy.
I need you now this Christmas.
Be born in me again. Today.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Bonnie Gray, from “Why it Takes Courage to Choose Joy”