Reflection for the Vigil of the First Sunday of Advent, 2013
by Cecilia Olson, OSB
Gospel: Matthew 24: 37-44
Most likely, this Gospel would not make the list of “comforting, soothing Scripture passages.” At first reading, there is an ominous tone about it – merry-makers swept away in a flood, people suddenly separated from one another, a homeowner has his house burglarized. They are all bound together not only through their encountering the unexpected, but through their inattentiveness to what is happening around them. Then there are those words of caution, warnings to be prepared for that unknown hour. Tonight we enter into Advent – adventus in Latin - a word that means “arrival.” But this season is more than a looking back in time at Christ’s “arrival” and it’s more than looking ahead at the “arrival” of our death. Like that alarm clock that jars us from sleep, this Gospel jolts us from our spiritual slumber; it summons us to wake up more fully, to stir up our inattentiveness to the God who comes to each of us NOW.
“If the master of the house had known….” There is regret in those words. Perhaps the outcome would have been different if the master had been more attentive. The very next chapter of Matthew’s Gospel is the description of the Last Judgment where people are stunned when they discover they have completely missed Christ. As they were waiting for God’s coming in glory with trumpets and stars falling from the sky, Jesus reveals that He had been coming into their lives everyday - in the sick, the hungry, the thirsty, those in need. They could only look at one another with disbelief! “That couldn’t have been Christ, could it? If only I had noticed!”
Most likely each one of us can recall times when we have said something similar: “If only I had noticed what she needed; if only I had been more attentive to her heavy heart; if only I had not been so preoccupied.” In the novitiate, Sr. Imogene would say to us: “Be where you are and do what you’re doing.” The wisdom of those words has deepened with time as I’ve learned how difficult it is to live attentively, mindful of the sacrament of the Present Moment. It’s easy to miss God’s comings when our mind and body are not in the same place. Familiarity may not breed contempt for us, but it can breed a numbing of the heart, a sleepy unawareness. We may miss God’s comings because, for the most part, God doesn’t come accompanied with bells and whistles; God comes in the simple, ordinary, unplanned, seemingly insignificant opportunities to be servant, to listen, to respond with kindness, generosity, patience. And, just as in this Sunday’s Gospel we find people unaware, we too may be caught napping to the moment.
From creation to the Incarnation to the Spirit moving in our world today, our God has come unexpectedly over and over. There is no need for us to go out and seek God; God finds us. Our part is simply to be awake to the NOW, to be ready. If you snooze, you lose also applies to our monastic life.
In the 2009 spring/summer issue of Benedictines, our beloved Abbot Owen Purcell wrote an article entitled “Acedia And The Now” in which he writes: “In the NOW we take the time as the acceptable time for us to go deeper into the reality that we are made for more than what might have been or what might be. Our call to seek God through obedience and in the context of daily community living is all done in the present moment. If we make a serious attempt to live in the here and now, we soon realize that God is leading us through uncharted territory.”
Advent – adventus – arrival. How sad if we are waiting to meet God only when we draw our last breath! The Scriptures reveal a God that continually comes in ways and times that are unexpected, unplanned. God came to each of us this very day and God will come again to us tomorrow. The Kingdom of God is here. And so, “Let us NOW put on Christ Jesus! Let us awaken to the Spirit within us! NOW is the time to waken from sleep for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”