Advent tells us to up our game

Friday, December 07, 2018 - Updated: 3:15 pm

By David Mills

“That young man,” the wise old Baptist man said, “is so heavenly minded he’s no earthly good.” He was too kind a man to roll his eyes, but he might as well have.

I knew the guy. Actually, I knew several. You could tell one of them that you were going to the Red Sox game (this was Massachusetts) and he’d look solemn and serious and say, “Does that honor Jeeeesus?” (The answer is “Yes.”) When the floors needed sweeping, he’d say he had to talk to someone about the Lord. Or go pray, or go “search the Scriptures.” But not sweep. He never felt God was telling him to go do any physical work. He seemed to care a lot about people’s salvation, but not very much about their lives.

One lesson Advent teaches: Don’t be those guys.

Every priest on the first Sunday of every Advent tells us that the church helps us prepare to celebrate Jesus’ first coming by making us think about his second coming. The church gives us at least three full weeks to think about the future moment when Jesus “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”

We say that in the Nicene Creed at every Sunday Mass, but we probably don’t think much about it. Life is hard enough as it is without worrying about a future we have no control over. As Jesus said, “Do not fret about tomorrow, for today’s troubles are enough for today.” Jesus will come when he comes. As he told his disciples, “the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him,” like a burglar.

Knowing about Christmas and the second coming should comfort us a lot. We’re not alone. No matter how bad things are, Jesus came to join us — to be us, even — and he’s coming back at the end of things to make everything all right. In between, we can meet him in the church, especially at Mass. He’s coming again, yes, but he never goes away. A win-win, as people say.

But here’s the danger of Advent. It’s easy to think only that Jesus came to save us (great!) and he’s coming back to rescue us (yay!). It’s easy to be like those guys I knew, and think spiritual thoughts about the Incarnation and the parousia (that’s the Greek word theologians use for second coming). Just thank God for his love and rest in the knowledge that everything’s going to be OK.

Instead, Advent tells us to up our game. When Jesus said he’d return like a burglar, he also ordered us to keep watch for him. He tells a story to show that keeping watch means doing what you’re supposed to do. The faithful servant gets rewarded. The unfaithful one, Jesus said, in one of the harshest passages in the Gospels: “At an hour when he is all unaware, his lord will come, and will cut him off, and assign him his portion with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Yikes. But he also said the same thing in a more encouraging way. Do not worry about what you’re going to eat or drink or wear, he said. You “have a Father in heaven who knows that you need them all. Make it your first care to find the kingdom of God, and his approval, and all these things shall be yours without the asking.”

Advent, Pope Benedict XVI said in one of his teaching talks, “places us before the luminous mystery of the coming of the Son of God, the great ‘benevolent plan’ with which he wants to draw us to himself, to help us live in full communion of joy and peace with him.” In the midst of all our problems, Advent asks us to remember “that God is present: He came into the world, becoming a man like us, to bring his plan of love to fullness.”

Advent also asks something of us, Pope Benedict explained: “God demands that we become a sign of his action in the world.” Notice “demands.” Benedict said: “Through our faith, our hope, our love, he wants to enter the world again and again. He wants to shine his light in our night.”

The cool thing about Advent: We can love others as Jesus tells us, precisely because he came once and is coming again. We can be so heavenly minded we’re an earthly good.

Mills and his family are members of St. Joseph Parish in Coraopolis.

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