Appropriately, on this first Sunday of our liturgical year, Jesus gives us a wake-up call. He knows we get distracted. He knows we get bored. He knows we are human. He is too. Every organ, every cell, every atom of his body is human. But he is also divine… the channel of God’s love for us. And before we can live in that love, we must be awake to it, open to it, actively seeking it, body and soul.
A brief confession: over the course of my ministry I have probably met few if any really big-league sinners. But I have met hundreds of cruise-control Christians… folks who’ve taken their feet off the pedals and are just hoping to glide through life seeking the pleasant, avoiding the painful, oblivious to the presence of God all around them. From time to time, I suspect we all match that description; but at what a cost. In reflexively pursuing happiness, we forget that truly happy people seldom think of happiness. They are too busy giving their lives in service to God, in service to family, in service to neighbor. The secret to true happiness is not to get stuck in cruise control, not to drift endlessly, mindlessly, living an unexamined, unengaged, pleasant life.
In this week’s gospel Jesus tells us to snap out of it. Our lives on earth and the earth itself are not endless. Through the creation of the Father we were born. Through the grace of Jesus Christ we are born again. What are we doing with the precious life God has given us and then given us again? Gliding? Cruising? Snoozing away every opportunity to witness Christ’s love? Ask yourself: If it were based solely on an objective examination of my daily life, could anyone even guess that Jesus had lived among us and died for our redemption?
Sometimes a wake-up call is not enough. Sometimes God must slap us awake to get our attention, to get us back on task. C.S. Lewis wrote that: “God whispers in our pleasures, but shouts in our pain.” Sickness, a lost job, a bad investment, a troubled marriage, an alienated child, a death in the family… sometimes they are a series of slaps. Collectively they can be a punch in the gut… our own personal 9/11. These are the defining moments in life. Not defining because of what they do to us, but defining because of what we do with them. Are they cause for unremitting anger, despair, depression, revenge? Do they leave us scrambling to regain our unexamined equilibrium? Do we seek the solace of oblivion in mind numbing pain killers or alcohol? Or do we snap out of our stupor, give the pain to God and ask for his consolation and guidance?
There is great wisdom in the French cliché: C’est la vie. That’s life. What we call normal life is only the interims between the bumps and bruises that are inseparably woven right into life’s fabric. In this week’s gospel Jesus tells us: You ain’t seen nothing yet. The biggest bumps and bruises, the loudest wake-up call, they are all coming in God’s good time. But not to worry, if we are awake to the love of God; if we actively live in Jesus; we will have all the grace that we’ll ever need to handle whatever comes our way.
On this First Sunday of Advent, we retrace our first stirrings of faith, our first commitment to Christ. We are reminded to keep awake… awake to the brevity of earthly life, awake to the promise of eternal life, awake to the love of God… not a bad resolution for Advent. Keep awake!