Summary: A SERMON FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT Jesus says to keep watch, keep awake - to be ready and prepared. A call to put our spiritual ’house’ in order to welcome him.
A TIME OF CELEBRATION IS AT HAND! Yes, a time of celebration is at hand – a new year begins today! “But”, I hear you say, “hang on a sec! It isn’t January 1st, it’s November 30!” Ah, true it is, but just the same, a new year begins today! The Church’s new year, that is. Today it’s the first Sunday in Advent, and the season of Advent begins the Church year. The traditional liturgical colour for Advent (like that of Lent) is … Purple. Advent (like Lent) traditionally being a season of reflection, repentance (and sorrow), but also of preparation, waiting, anticipation and longing.
Yes, Advent is the season when we reflect upon our readiness (or lack of it!) to welcome Jesus; when we, as Christian people, prepare, wait for, anticipate and long for his coming – which we celebrate each year at Christmas. Our Gospel verses today, this first Sunday of Advent, aid us in our weeks of reflection and preparation, waiting and preparation prior to Christmas, as we strive for personal spiritual renewal (as we prepare to be ready to welcome Jesus into our lives afresh) on that ‘Joyful Morning’.
Indeed, Jesus prefaces his parable with a statement of the reality of what it means to harbour the deepest longing and anticipation common to every Christian’s heart, waiting for his coming. Yet, he knows of the impatience of the human spirit, how easily we give up, when we’re waiting – and waiting – and waiting … and nothing seems to happen. Jesus says, “Take heed, watch, for you do not know when the time will come.” He tells us to be watchful, he tells us to wait, he tells us to be hopeful, he tells us to anticipate his return. Then he begins his story.
It’s a short story, which he begins with a familiar three words – “It is like”. When Jesus uses an introduction like this, we know that he is about to invite those that hear his words to make a parallel between the all-too familiar everyday life, and the deep mysteries (yet realities) of faith. The familiar, everyday life-situation is that a man leaves his house to go on a journey. He’s evidently rather a wealthy man since he has a number of servants. Before his departure he instructs each of them in their duties – some to make sure the house is kept neat and tidy and in good repair. And he instructs the doorkeeper to keep watch so that the door may be opened for him, the master of the house, on his return home.
The servants are to be vigilant in their duties. Even though they don’t know when the master will return (perhaps the master doesn’t either? Matt 24:36) there’s no slacking allowed! No sense in which the servants can say, ‘The master surely won’t be home today, so let’s just have fun, be lazy: no matter about the dusting, the cleaning, the disposal of the household garbage. No reason to keep watch, no reason to be ready to welcome the master home today. We’ll begin our preparations again, our watching, tomorrow!’ But tomorrow never comes, does it! And so the house gets more and more cluttered and dusty, the door’s hinges become rusty and difficult to open. The servants become lazy; sharp-sightedness becomes impaired through lack of practice.
How much like these servants we can be, in our lives of faith! How like that house our spiritual lives can become – full of clutter, dusty, unkempt! How like that door our spiritual lives can become, difficult to open! How un-prepared we can be for the Master’s return! What lack of vision we can suffer from when we do not anticipate, when we cease to hope for, the Master’s return!
Advent is a time for ‘putting our spiritual house in order’. By examining our life’s priorities, what’s important to us and our loved-ones, through the spiritual discipline of prayer and reflection on Jesus’ word, we can empty our house of the clutter that hinders our readiness to welcome Jesus, the Master, into our lives. How about the clutter of our desire for material things – the new car, the latest computer games, the newest mobile / cell-phone … all the things that adverts on TV try to convince us will make our Christmas complete! SWEEP THOSE DESIRES AWAY! How about the clutter of our desire to buy all the food and drink (so much of which gets thrown away) without which, TV adverts try to convince us, Christmas will be so disappointing! SWEEP THOSE DESIRES AWAY! Now I’m no ‘humbug’, and I enjoy celebrating Christmas as much as any other Christian. But what’s Christmas all about? That’s the question. It’s about celebrating the birth of Jesus. And the most important thing is that we need to be sure we’re ready to welcome him again, whenever he ‘comes home’ to dwell with(in) us.