I confess that I am not ready for Christmas. I am not even ready for Advent. The cold weather and the snow I can handle. But the rest of it I can do nothing about. I can live in denial and go about life as though it were still summer or fall, still ordinary time. I could pretend that the temperature outside will last, and run around in shorts and sandals. But I will only be fooling myself. Postponing my flu shot will be no guarantee of immunity. Besides, there’s not a lot of priests out there who aren’t already busy, so I can’t afford to catch the flu. Yet for some years now, I have found this season a little confusing. Christmas music is playing on the radio. Several public venues are already seasonally attired. The merchants all over town are busy hawking their Christmas merchandise. The sights and sounds and smells of Christmas are everywhere as well—twinkling lights, jingling bells, that blend of pine and cinnamon and apple pie. Every TV chef and talk show host is aflutter with decorating and entertaining tips. And meanwhile, there are places in the world where Christmas is the farthest thing from people’s minds. Instead there’s a lot of fear and resentment and anger. Violent attacks on innocent civilians continue to erupt in places we seldom associate with violence. We have never succeeded at wishing evil away by simply ignoring injustice and filling the air with strains of “Silent Night.” When all is said and done, even Christmas will come and go, while poverty and racism and religious intolerance are still with us.
I could use a little more quiet, a little less activity really, maybe even a little more denial. I know I will be able to enter into the seasons of Advent and Christmas more focused and intentional when I am well rested, and I get enough sleep, and my desk is clear, and I have time to cook a warm meal instead of heating up leftovers, and the house is not cluttered, and the dog has been walked, and I have answered all my mail and returned all my messages, and the laundry is done, and there are no meetings to attend—wish me luck with that, and there is peace within our borders, and peace in the Middle East, and peace in the rest of the world, and a partridge in a pear tree. There is a long string of things that I tell myself need to get done before I am even ready to take on Advent and Christmas. But if I can only deal with life when I’m ready and everything is in control, I might as well move to the moon. The world does not take orders from you or me, and as much as we would prefer, we never get to call the shots. It happens every year, and every year I know I’m not ready.
Whenever something truly important and wonderful happens in life, I find that I am often unprepared, at least not to the extent I would want to be—the day I was born, my first day of school, high school graduation, college graduation, my sister’s wedding, my brother’s wedding, my other brother’s wedding, the births of their children, my brother’s ordination, my ordination, my move to Virginia, my move to Waynesboro, this homily … you name it. I look back and I have often wished I was just a bit more present to the moment than I am. Either my mind is elsewhere or the importance of the event just naturally takes time to grab hold of me. It is only in hindsight, and always in hindsight, that I realize I could have been more awake, more focused, more involved. Now regret is a strong word. I can’t say I regret not being fully ready for life’s many interesting occurrences. I know that’s just the way it is. It’s like a moment of insight which we can never anticipate. When that light bulb comes on, it happens. You can’t force it to come on any earlier. You can’t tell when to expect it. So I face life as adequately prepared as I can be. There will still be surprises. There might still be regrets. But I need only prepare for what I know and believe the future holds. The rest is for me to just wait and see.
Scripture today speaks to us of events past and events yet to come. Actually, the evangelist Luke was writing of events that had already taken place, giving weight to Jesus’ predictions of the end of the world from the Christian community’s experience of the Jewish Revolt against the Roman Empire in 66 AD, leading to the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. To his listeners, the evangelist seems to be speaking of a time yet to come, and the end of the world as we know it. Who will see it happen? The apostle Paul thought he would. Many in the early church thought they would. But with the passage of the years and the realization that the end was not as imminent as once thought, the focus of their belief shifted from the end of the world to the inevitable end of each person’s journey in this life. No longer was this message intended for those who will experience the dissolution of the physical universe. It is intended now for all, because we will all experience the end of this present existence.
On this first Sunday of Advent, the focus of scripture is not Christmas as yet. Instead, the focus is our readiness, be it for the coming of the Son of Man in time, or for his return at the end of time. It matters little whether he comes in the relative obscurity of a Palestinian countryside or with great tribulation and frightful signs in the heavens and on the earth. The more important question is, will we be ready? We know that when the Son of God did come in the flesh, many were not prepared to receive him. And those who came to know of his coming had to struggle with doubt and fear. We do know that he will return at the end of time. Will we be ready then? It matters little whether we will be around when the world ends, or if we arrive first at the end of our lives. The more important question is still, will we be ready?
It seems we are seldom fully prepared for many ordinary events in our own lives. How will we approach that event which no one can escape? If we knew when, would we be better prepared? And if we can never be ready for Advent or Christmas each year, how will we be ready for the end of all things? Will we even be ready for our own passage into eternity? The answer lies in what we do every year and what we will end up doing this year as well. We face the present and the future head on, living as faithful as we are able to all that we believe, trusting that God will find us right in the midst of life’s struggles, doing what we should be doing. We are best prepared for the end when we participate in our own lives, when we are willing occasionally to reexamine our values, and reaffirm our priorities. It is in our very experience of life’s struggles that God comes and makes himself known. It is that very human condition we live with that God desires to understand and embrace. It is this same flesh we possess that God will use to be present to his people once again. The end will come when it comes. If we are always ready for it, we will have nothing to fear.
Rolo B Castillo © 2015