Words Matter: Preparation
Jesus said to his disciples: "As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. In those days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be also at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."
Martin Niemöller was a Lutheran pastor in Germany during the Second World War. After the war, he reflected and regretted that he did not do more to resist the restrictions and abuses of the Nazi regime. When we wait too long to speak out, we risk it becoming too late.
Words matter. The Dutch bishops spoke out against the Nazi regime, and the Dutch Jews were among the first to be deported to internment camps. Others were silent, and history has not treated them kindly. It is not easy to find the right words when facing a social behemoth, but it is our duty to try. Words matter. The word for this first Sunday of Advent is a response to Christ’s call to “stay awake” and is “Preparation.”
We are not ready for the coming of Christ, but we can prepare. Advent is a time of preparation. The Church typically understands this time as a spiritual preparation for Christmas, but also for the second coming of Christ. In this historical moment, we need to prepare for the cultural war that is being waged before our eyes. If we as Christians are building up the Kingdom of Christ, we need to be aware of how the enemy is attacking us. One of the obstacles to preparation is fickleness and indecision. Merton speaks of the necessity to make up your mind about what God wants for you.
Fickleness and indecision are signs of self-love. If you can never make up your mind what God wills for you, but are always veering from one opinion to another, from one practice to another, from one method to another, it may be an indication that you are trying to get around God’s will and do your own with a quiet conscience. (Merton, Thomas. New Seeds of Contemplation (p. 264). New Directions. Kindle Edition.)
During this Advent, God is asking us to make a firm decision for him and his Kingdom. Advent is a great time to have a personal program to foster spiritual growth. The world we are in needs it. The church needs it. We need it. What are you going to do this Advent that will move you towards your goal of being a committed Catholic?
Today’s Gospel talks about a judgment that is coming. There is an invitation to be vigilant. “If the master of the house had known, he would have stayed awake…” The Gospel is asking us for preparation. Many of the societal problems that we are facing now is because too many people have fallen asleep. We are in the middle of a cultural war, a battle for our society’s soul, and we are tempted to fall asleep. This is not meant to scare us, but rather to help us wake up to reality and to respond in a way that corresponds to God’s great love for us. One of the insidious tactics of the devil is to make us think that we are war among ourselves, when really the only true enemy is sin.
Why are we so afraid as a society? One message that people in power leverage to continue manipulating the masses is “stay afraid.” This goes directly against the Gospel message of freedom, in which Christ makes his own the words of Isaiah: “be not afraid.” (cf. Isaiah, 41:10) If we are going to prepare for his coming, we must let go of the fears that are ruling our lives and poisoning our minds. We stay awake and we prepare when we put our fears aside and focus our gaze on the Lord’s face. We set our gaze on Christ and walk up the Lord’s mountain.
"Come, let us climb the LORD's mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths." (Isaiah, 21:3)
The Lord’s mountain brings us truth, peace and justice. We are called to focus on unity, and this unity is founded on truth. Words matter. Our preparation for Advent should bring us into contact with the truth.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was another Lutheran pastor during the Second World War in Germany. His outspokenness against the regime cost him his life. He wrote from prison that
one only learns to have faith by living in the full this-worldliness of life. If one has completely renounced making something of oneself—whether it be a saint or converted sinner or a church leader (a so-called priestly figure!), a just or unjust person, a sick or a healthy person—then one throws oneself completely into the arms of God, and this is what I call this-worldliness: living fully in the midst of life’s tasks, questions, successes and failures, experiences, and perplexities—then one takes seriously no longer one’s own sufferings but rather the sufferings of God in the world. Then one stays awake with Christ in Gethsemane. And I think this is faith; this is μετάνοια. And this is how one becomes a human being, a Christian (Cf. Jer. 45!) (Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, Letters & Papers from Prison)
Our preparation for Christmas consists in living in this world but living for God. One great way to do this is to make a habit of daily Mass. This half-hour we carve out of our day has tremendous power to shape our lives and worldview. The benefits far outweigh the investment. If there is any way to work daily Mass into your schedule, do it!