For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.
Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. (Matthew 24:37-44 – NRSV)
1. Human beings are the only animals that make promises. We experience our lives as past and present and future. We are beings who remember and anticipate, even as we participate in this moment. This is a most mysterious thing. Add to this the common experience of “losing track of time”. We have moments when time ceases, as it were, and we are ……. where?
a. This mysterious human phenomenon is reflected in the liturgy.
b. Liturgy is a remembrance – quintessentially so in the Eucharist;
c. Liturgy is also an anticipation;
d. Liturgy is also a profound engagement with the present moment – it is always now, drawing us into the Eternal Now.
2. Our experience of time can be constructive or destructive, liberating or burdensome:
a. It can evoke surrender and abandonment to Divine Providence;
i. As such it can becomes an encounter with God and an experience of being loved into freedom;
b. It can also evoke anxiety and the compulsion to control;
i. As such it can become an encounter with ego and an experience of being further entrenched in the false self;
3. Advent – from the Latin advenire meaning “to arrive” or “to come” – might be understood as the season in which we meditate on the arriving of Christ:
a. Christ is always arriving, always coming, but we do not always recognize Him because we are not “awake”, not “vigilant”.
b. The season of Advent, each year, reminds us to turn up for life wide awake lest we miss His arriving;
c. The arriving might come in our lives through our remembering, our anticipating or our participating here and now;
d. And this arriving in our lives must be held in tension with the ultimate arriving of Christ at the end of time – for the person of faith, the now in which we live is always shaped by the “not yet” and we open ourselves to that “not yet” with peace and joy in our hearts;
i. To live is to hope.
e. The message of the Gospel readings in Advent is: “Wake up! Stay awake! Be attentive and available for Christ who awaits you in the stuff of your life!”
f. One of the primary functions of Liturgy is to awaken us – and keep us awake – to what is real, what matters in the end, who and what we are and, indeed, who and what we are not.
So stay awake …. stand ready
The focus of Matthew’s Gospel is the coming of the Kingdom. “From then onwards Jesus began his proclamation with the message, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is close at hand’.” (Matthew 4:17)
In Him, with Him and through Him – His teachings, His life among us, but most particularly His Passover – the Kingdom is being born. Those who will be disciples will recognize this, let it find a home in them and cooperate generously.
The Kingdom is not a political reality nor is it a cultural reality or any social construct. These are all human inventions – necessary but inventions all the same. The Kingdom is a spiritual reality with immense, radical, transforming implications for all our politics and culture and societal expressions. Once the Kingdom has begun to take root in us, we will not abandon these human inventions but be instruments of their transformation.
We will be able to do this because we will have discovered our identity in God and will no longer depend on any human inventions for an identity.
A theme implicit in Matthew’s call for wakefulness and readiness is that of abandonment to divine providence.
The heart of abandonment to divine providence is a gut belief in God’s love. On the basis of our having tasted God and knowing – in our guts – that we are loved infinitely, we can walk into the world with grace and freedom.
Abandonment to divine providence differs radically from fatalism.
Abandonment to divine providence believes there is a loving God who holds me, whatever emerges, and part of that “whatever” is my own free choice, participating in determining concrete outcomes. It is summed up beautifully in Julian of Norwich’s famous words: “All shall be well. All manner of things shall be well.”
Fatalism, on the other hand, believes that the future is there before we get there. So if I get on board this plane that crashes, than that was my “fate”. It says nothing about God’s providential care or our freedom.
The “staying awake” and the “standing ready” is a way of being present. It implies confidence in God’s care, conviction that in the end goodness and truth and love will have the victory, no matter what the immediate evidence might suggest. Put – and we are another way, it implies an expectation that Christ will come to us disguised as our ordinary life, today, and we are quietly joyful about that.
“God speaks to every individual through what happens to them moment by moment…. The events of each moment are stamped with the will of God… we find all that is necessary in the present moment. If we have abandoned ourselves to God, there is only one rule for us: the duty of the present moment.” (Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence, New York, Image, 1975, 10.)