Be watchful! Be alert!
In the Gerber house, we have six nieces and nephews ranging in age from two months to ten years old. And during Thanksgiving, they were all running around as kids do. And we were at my aunt’s house where there are many breakable things. Thankfully, everyone and every thing survived—but not without several warnings of “watch out!” and “don’t run!”
But why were there warnings? Because there was danger.
We often don’t equate Advent and danger, but this is how Advent begins: with a warning to watch out and to be alert.
The question is, why? What’s the danger?
In a word: that we might miss Christmas.
Life Moves Pretty Fast...
This sounds impossible, especially since Christmas music is already on the radio and Christmas decorations have been on sale since July. I mean, how could we miss Christmas? There are so many Christmassy things going on: like putting up the tree and setting up for parties and wrapping presents and worrying about how we’re going to pay for all of this and having the in-laws over and then having to get that last-minute gift and having to drive to the mall and trying to find a parking spot and then walking through said crowded mall with that weird perfume mall smell while over the speakers we hear the Beatles playing “So this is Christmas,” which reminds us that we need to go to Mass; so we get cleaned up and dressed up and bundled up and we load the gifts and the kids into the car (which is totally the easiest thing to do, especially when one of the kids has misplaced Elsa or Ana or Olaf or whoever) and we head to the very-relaxing, totally no-stress-at-all-4pm-Grand-Central-Station-Christmas-Eve Mass where everybody is happy to give you a seat and where you’re happy to stay until the very end of Mass because you have nothing else to do that night because it’s Christmas and nobody misses Christmas.
Be watchful. Be alert.
Ferris Bueller, that wise sage, once put it this way: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Thanks, Ferris.
But he’s right. It is so easy to miss Christmas (and that’s so strange to say!). But it’s true. At the very first Christmas, on the hills overlooking Bethlehem, there were shepherds watching over their flocks—and in the village inn, there were people eating, drinking, and sleeping.
One of those groups misses Christmas. Why?
Because the people at the inn weren’t watching. They were totally busy and totally content and totally not in need of a savior. So, when Jesus knocked and the doors remained locked, Christmas came and went and life went on just as usual—but with more bills to pay. It would be like having two months of Christmas music on the radio and then, when Christmas comes, the radio stations turn off the Christmas music!
But it’s Christmas! How can we possibly return (and so quickly) to our past life! How can we be so worked up about our preparations for Christmas and yet have it mean so little? Unless… we’ve missed Christmas.
Advent at Christmas
Perhaps the Church stops singing the Gloria during Advent to alert us and to remind us that there was a time when the world had no reason to sing glorias: that there was a time when heaven was not open, when our hearts were irreconcilably hard, when there was no reason to watch—or to hope.
This gets to the heart of why Jesus tells us to watch. Not only that we might be vigilant so that we don’t miss his coming, but also that we might be hopeful for his arrival.
Hopefulness is an eagerness that longingly expects something good, even from the most unexpected of places.
The people at the inns missed Christmas not only because they were not vigilant, but also because they had lost hopefulness. In their worldly pursuits, they couldn’t see how something so small and so unexpected as a pregnant Mary and a poor Joseph could mean anything—much less, change their lives and bring a heavenly Christmas. And so the people at the inns shut the doors, not only to the inn, but to their hearts, politely telling Jesus to go somewhere else because there’s no room here. And closing the door, they return to their profoundly busy lives. And that is tragic, because the people missed the gifts that come with Christmas.
Advent at Holy Mass
But, really, I’m not just talking about Christmas. I’m also talking about the Eucharist. At Holy Mass, a hopeful Catholic approaches the Eucharist with a deep expectation the he will receive a taste of that great Christmas joy precisely because he is receiving the same Jesus that is the cause of our joy at Christmas. And so, the hopeful Catholic will go through a mini Advent before every Holy Mass. Having arrived to Mass early, the Catholic will quietly prepare his soul for the coming of Christ through prayer and hopeful watching. Then, like the shepherds, having heard and sung with the angels in the Gloria at the beginning of Mass, he travels to Bethlehem with great hope and discovers the tiny baby in the manger: the small and humble Eucharist. There, the Catholic soul opens the doors to the inn of his heart and invites Jesus and His mother to dwell there. Because, for the hopeful soul, with every Eucharist, Christmas has come! And there are gifts to be had!
If only we would watch. If only we would be alert.
This requires vigilance—that kind of watchfulness which is on guard against a creeping hopelessness and subsequent busy-ness that tempts us to arrive late and to check-out early.
Advent and Heaven
Because this isn’t just about the Mass and preparation for Mass or about Christmas and our preparations for Christmas. It’s about heaven. Advent is about Jesus’ coming and being ready for Him. So, how we prepare for Mass is how we prepare for Christmas is how we prepare for heaven. And if we don’t stop, we could miss Him. The doors up there will be like the doors in here *point to heart*.
So, to prepare you for the Eucharist and for Christmas, I want to sing to you a song about heaven. You know it because it is a Christmas song, but it isn’t just about Christmas. It is about heaven and the Eucharist and about the joy and triumph of the saints who have been vigilant in keeping the doors of their hearts open and who have triumphed over the busy-ness of this life.
O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him, born the king of angels.
O come let us adore Him. O come let us adore Him.
O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!