by Br Julian McDonald cfc
“If the owner of the house had known at what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. Therefore, you must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Matthew 24, 37-44
Today’s gospel reading gives us an image of God with which we may well be a little uncomfortable. The New Testament offers us many comforting images of God. Shepherd, forgiving father, non-judgemental father who welcomes us, boundless lover who does not put conditions on accepting us, mother hen who gathers together her chickens are but some of those images. But we might hesitate a bit at Matthew’s description of God as someone who comes like a thief in the night, as though trying to catch us unaware and unprepared. Yet, that same image occurs twice in the Book of Revelation (3, 3; 16, 15;) and in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians (5, 2;). But let us hold that thought for a few moments, for we are exhorted in the gospel reading of this first Sunday of Advent to wait patiently and to stay awake and alert to a God who, in reality, comes into our lives every single day.
Advent heralds the start of a new year in the Christian calendar and is, therefore, an invitation to look at our lives anew and to set our priorities right with a few new-year resolutions. In that context, have you heard of the joint agreement made by the leaders of Great Britain, the United States, Hungary, Italy, Australia and all the other so-called “developed” nations trying to lock out asylum seekers and illegal immigrants? They have had a change of heart and, instead of chasing down illegals and chasing away refugees, they have decided to begin deporting old people in order to boost their declining economies. The rationale behind it is that oldies are much easier to catch and will forget how to find their way back home. So there’s something new for many of us to think about.
Perhaps it’s also something new for us to think about God as a thief. Some of us build for ourselves a false sense of security. We take comfort in having a substantial bank account, a growing portfolio of stocks and shares, a couple of vehicles and season tickets for our favourite sporting teams or the opera and orchestral concerts. But all these things become meaningless when the bottom falls out of the national economy and the stock market, or when a spouse or another family member is snatched away in a fatal accident. Then there are thieves who break into our houses after making sure that nobody is at home. We feel violated by their intrusion and the knowledge that they have invaded what is private in our lives. All these things come unannounced and without warning. God, too, comes unannounced when those closest to us are called home in death. Do we ever think that seeking security in the things that will disappear is a fruitless pursuit? Does it ever occur to us that our greatest security and our best investment are to be found in our love for God and for all the people who are part of our network of relationships, including those people who struggle to make ends meet either financially or emotionally?
What’s more, if we listen carefully to what Jesus says about God, we come to realise that we are all loved intensely by a God who is intent on stealing our hearts. God does not shield us from the hurts and disappointments that are part of life. But God does offer us the security that comes from knowing we are truly loved, and a deep, inner peace that no one can take from us. However, to gain that lasting peace and security we have to let go of our false securities and begin rubbing shoulders with the poor, neglected and forgotten one’s of this world. We have to take the risk of being keeper to our brothers and sisters, and of opening our ears to the countless opportunities we have of encountering God in the beauty of the natural world and all the people with whom we engage each and every day of our lives.
Advent is a season in the Christian calendar when we are invited to pray and reflect on the true meaning of God’s incarnation in our flesh and blood in the person of Jesus. To do that requires time and patience – two things that we have become expert at ensuring are in short supply. We choose to live our lives at such a frenetic pace that we rarely take time out for prayer and reflection, and reduce patience to an unfamiliar virtue.
We repeatedly tell ourselves and others that there are not enough hours in the day to satisfactorily achieve the tasks and goals we set for ourselves and others set for us. And hardly a day goes by without impatience coming to disturb our equilibrium.
Those of us who drive cars and trucks often slip into vocal criticism of “all the ratbags on the road”. Yet we cannot admit to falling into that category ourselves. If we took the time to position ourselves near traffic lights, we would hear countless horns being blown at drivers who are slow to move off on the green light.
Could I suggest that we observe what goes on inside us when the doctor or the dentist keeps us waiting beyond the appointed time. We engage in internal muttering as to why people in the professions are the only ones who cannot keep to time. Does it ever occur to us that doctors and dentists are not mind readers; that they don’t know in advance the emotional and physical states of the people lined up for consultations. They cannot predict just how much time each of their patients will need. Still in hospital, medical and dental waiting rooms, intolerance levels skyrocket.
I wonder what might happen to us if, in advance of our medical, hospital and dental appointments, we made the decision to use our waiting time to pray, reflect and read, and actually came prepared. We might even spend some time praying for the doctors and nurses we are there to meet or for the other people waiting along with us.
Advent is a time for sharpening our senses in order to depth the significance of the love God demonstrated in giving us Jesus as one of us, with all the struggles, adventures, joys and disappointments of being fully human. It is a time when we are invited to use our gifts and creativity to do something new; a time for being alert to the action of God who comes to us in the people we meet and the events that fill up our lives. It is a time of waiting on God, conscious that God’s time is not measured by the time-keepers we carry in our pockets and on our wrists or by the clocks on our walls. It is a time for meeting God present and active in the depths of our hearts and in all those whom God sends into our lives. But for those things to touch us in meaningful ways, we have to find both time and patience.