1st Sunday of Advent Isaiah 2:1–5; Romans 13:11–14; Matthew 24:37–44
No workbench “The night is nearly over, day is almost here. . . .Stop doing the things that belong to the dark, and . . . take up weapons for fighting in the light.”
Mark Twain wrote a story called “The Terrible Catastrophe.” It concerns a group of people who get trapped in a tragic situation. They are doomed to die. They have no way to escape. They are, indeed, on the verge of a terrible catastrophe.
Mark Twain didn’t want the story to end unhappily. But he didn’t see how he could save the people. It was like having them trapped in a plane that was seconds away from crashing into a mountainside.
And so Mark Twain concluded his story with these two sentences: I have these characters in such a fix that I cannot get them out of it. Anyone who thinks he can is welcome to try.
In one sense that’s an unfair ending. But in another sense it’s a good ending. It makes you think: it makes you get involved.
For example, suppose there was a plane about to crash into a mountainside. How would you have the passengers try to save themselves?
What would you do to try to save yourself if you were a passenger on that plane? Thousands of years ago the human race found itself in a similar situation.
Sin had entered the world and was spreading like wildfire.
The human race was trapped. There was no way it could save itself.
If Mark Twain had been alive then, he would have summed up the situation the same way he summed up his story:
These people are in such a fix that I cannot get them out of it. Anyone who thinks he can is welcome to try.
God the Father saw the tragic situation. He didn’t want the story to end sadly. He loved the human race too much for that. So he thought of a way to save it.
God the Father sent his only Son into the world to become a member of the human race. And we know what Jesus did then. He laid the foundation for the kingdom of God. It was God’s way to rescue people from sin and to help them start over again. Jesus did not bring God’s kingdom to completion. He gave the job of completing it to us.
An example may give us a better idea of what Jesus did for us.
Years ago there was a thought-provoking Peanuts cartoon.
The first picture of the cartoon shows Charlie Brown staring at a tool box, saying to himself, “I can’t do it! I can’t do it!” The second picture shows Lucy entering and saying to Charlie, What’s wrong, Charlie? You seem unhappy.
The last picture has Charlie answer Lucy, I am unhappy! I want to build a workbench, but I don’t have a workbench to build it on.
The point of the cartoon when we apply it to Jesus is clear. Jesus made us a workbench upon which we can complete the work he began. Jesus, the humble carpenter of Nazareth, did not complete the job himself He gave that job to us.
Advent is the season when we call to mind the terrible situation that the world was in before Jesus came.
Only by appreciating it can we celebrate with proper joy Jesus’ coming on the first Christmas.
But Advent is more than that. It is also the season when we call to mind that Jesus will come again. He will judge each one of us, personally, on how well we contributed to the work that he left for us to complete.
You and I are living in the interval between the lightning of Jesus’ first coming and the thunder of his second coming. What the angel said to the apostles right after Jesus was taken up into heaven applies to us too:
Why are you standing there looking up at the sky? This Jesus, who was taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way that you saw him go to heaven. Acts 1:11
Our job on earth, as we wait for Jesus’ return, is not to stand idly by looking up to heaven. Rather, it is to roll up our sleeves and complete the work Jesus gave us to do. We are to use the workbench Jesus built for us to complete God’s kingdom on earth.
We are to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger in our midst, work for peace, and love one another as Jesus loved us.
Advent is a time when we check to see how well we, personally, are doing this.
Advent is a time when we remember, in a special way, that Jesus will come again in glory to judge us on what we have done and what we have failed to do in his absence.
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
Until he does, we must walk in the light and complete the job he gave us.
This is what Advent is all about. It is not just a time to get ready to celebrate the first coming of Jesus. It is also a time to get ready to celebrate the second coming of Jesus.
Paul puts it this way in the second reading: “For the moment when we will be saved is closer now than it was when we first believed.The night is nearly over, day is almost here. Let us stop doing the things that belong to the dark, and let us take up weapons for fighting in the light.” Romans 13:11–12
Advent challenges us to ask ourselves three important questions: What are we doing right now to build God’s kingdom on earth? What ought we to be doing right now? What will we begin to do right now on this first Sunday of Advent?
Let us close with a prayer:
God our Father, your Son became one of us. He saved us from the terrible catastrophe to which sin has doomed us all.
He built for us a workbench the kingdom of God upon which we are to build a new world,a world of love, a world of peace.
He will come again to judge us all on how well we, personally, have tried to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, work for peace, love one another as he loved us.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Series II 1st Sunday of Advent Isaiah 2:1–5; Romans 13:11–14; Matthew 24:37–44
Simulators Jesus’ Second Coming will take place at a time we least expect, so we should always be prepared.
Some time ago, author Hal Hellman wrote a fascinating article in Omni magazine. It dealt with simulators and simulation exercises.
The opening paragraph caught the reader’s attention immediately. It went something like this:
I had never piloted a plane in my life. So I was nervous when I took control of a commercial jet in Miami and prepared to fly it to Washington, D.C.
The trip was far more eventful than I or my experienced copilot had anticipated. One engine did a flameout. A fuel line sprang a leak. And the plane’s rudder kept sticking.
But the real problem came as we prepared to touch down for our landing at Washington’s National Airport. All of a sudden it became obvious that the runway was coming up at too steep an angle.
Bam! We hit the runway hard, bounced up, came down, and hit it again. My copilot shouted at me to hold on. Then he hit the brakes hard. As he did, we came to a screeching halt, just a few feet from disaster. My heart was pounding like a drum. But then I began to relax. I remembered that we had never left Miami. We were in a flight simulator. The experience was so vivid and real that it took several minutes to get myself back together again.
Hellman went on in his article to describe the important role that simulators and simulation exercises are playing in modern life.
For example, hospitals simulate disasters to see how doctors, nurses, and equipment react to the overload of victims.
Schools simulate fires to find the fastest way to evacuate several thousands of children from 70 or 80 classrooms.
The military simulates nuclear attacks to find the most effective way to coordinate planes, ships, and submarines in the event of such an unthinkable disaster.
It is against this background that the Church wants us to look upon the season of Advent. It wants us to treat it as a time of simulation. It wants us to simulate the coming of Jesus into our world.
And the coming of Jesus that the Church wants us to simulate is not just his coming on the first Christmas. The Church also wants us to simulate Jesus’ Second Coming at the end of time.
And it’s this Second Coming of Jesus that the Church stresses on this the first Sunday of Advent.
So let’s turn our attention to it. The first thing the Church tells us is that the Second Coming of Christ may be closer than we think. Thus Paul says in today’s second reading:
The night is nearly over, day is almost here.
The second thing the Church tells us is that the Second Coming of Christ will catch us by surprise.Matthew says: “The coming of the Son of Man will be like what happened in the time of Noah. In the days before the flood people ate and drank, men and women married, up to the very day Noah went into the boat; yet they did not realize what was happening.”
“So then, you also must always be prepared, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you are not expecting him.”
Someone said that the most dangerous day of our lives comes when we learn the word tomorrow.For on that day we begin to put things off. On that day we begin to procrastinate. On that day we begin to act as if we have plenty of time to do whatever we wish.
William Barclay, the Scottish theologian, tells the story of three devils who were preparing to depart for earth for their apprenticeship of deceiving people.
Before departing, they each had an interview with Satan, the chief of the devils.
Satan asked the first devil, “And how do you plan to deceive people and destroy them?”
The first devil said, “I plan to convince them that there is no God.”
“And what about you?” Satan said to the second devil. “How do you plan to deceive people?”
The second devil said, “I plan to convince people that there is no hell.” “And what about you?” Satan said to the third devil.
The third devil responded, “My approach is going to be less intellectual. I simply plan to convince people that they have plenty of time to prepare for death and for the Second Coming of Jesus.”
Satan smiled and said to the third devil, “Do that, my son, and you will deceive many.”
The point is that there are certain things in life that we should never put off until tomorrow, because we don’t know for sure whether tomorrow will come for us.
This brings us to the big question that the Church sets before us on this first Sunday of Advent: How prepared would we be to meet Jesus if he were to come at this very moment?
If we had five minutes to prepare for death, how would we use those five minutes? Whatever we would do, that’s what the Church wants us to do in Advent.
Once there was an elderly woman who used to sweep and clean her house each night before she went to bed. One night her husband said to her, “Honey, you’re very tired tonight. Why don’t you sweep and clean the house in the morning? No one’s going to visit us in the middle of the night.”
His wife replied, “My dear, Jesus may come in the middle of the night. He may come for you or for me. In any event, I don’t want him to enter a dirty house.”
The elderly woman’s point is in keeping with the spirit of Advent, especially the spirit of the first Sunday.
Her point is simply this: We should be ready for death or for Jesus’ Second Coming at any moment in our lives. Let us conclude with a brief prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ, you have not revealed to us when you will come. We only know that you will come. When you do come, may you find our houses swept and clean, and ready for your arrival. May you find us watching and praying, ready to receive you. M. L.
Series III 1st Sunday of Advent Isaiah 2:1–5; Romans 13:11–14; Matthew 24:37–44
Hope Knowing God will help us if we help ourselves.
Watch out because you do not know what day your Lord will come. . . . So then you must always be ready. Matthew 24:42, 44
A devastating earthquake killed 30,000 people in Armenia in 1989. Minutes after the tragedy, a father ran to his son’s school building and found it completely collapsed.
Remembering that his son’s classroom was in the rear corner of the building, he ran over to it and began digging, pulling away the rubble with his hands.
Other parents, weeping nearby, tried to stop him, saying, “It’s too late! They’re all dead! It’s too late!” Even the police tried to dissuade him. But he kept on digging.
He dug for 36 hours without stopping. In the 38th hour he heard a voice, The father screamed, “Armand!” The boy shouted back, “Dad!”
Then began an incredible conversation. The boy shouted up from the rubble: “Dad! There are 14 of us down here. I told them not to worry. I told them that you’d come.”
When people heard Armand’s voice. they joined his father in the digging. Within minutes all 14 boys were freed. They were safe, only a bit frightened, hungry, and thirsty.
When the building fell, the room in which they were in collapsed into a wedge shape, keeping them from being crushed. Retold from a story by Mark V. Hansen in Chicken Soup for the Soul There are many ways to look at this incredible story. For example, we can look at it from the viewpoint of the people and the police.
When they saw the flattened building, they lost all hope immediately that anyone could have survived.
Or we can look at it from the viewpoint of Armand’s father. He saw the flattened building, but never lost hope that his son might be alive. Finally, we can look at it from the viewpoint of the 14 children trapped down inside the building.
They never lost hope, largely because of Armand’s dogged faith that his father would come to their rescue.
From the viewpoint of the children, the story makes a beautiful Advent story.
Before the coming of Jesus the people of Israel were in a situation much like the 14 children.
They were trapped in a world of moral and spiritual collapse. All they could do was wait in darkness, hoping that rescue would come.
Thanks to prophets like Isaiah, in today’s first reading, they kept faith. Isaiah kept telling them to trust in their heavenly Father, just as Armand kept telling his friends to trust in his father.
And this brings us to our world today.
Many people today are like the grief-strickened parents standing around the collapsed school after the earthquake.
They see our world in a state of moral and spiritual collapse. They see nothing but a mountain of crime, war, drugs, corruption, and disrespect for all forms of life. They have given up and simply stand around, lamenting the situation. There are also people, like the children, trapped inside the mountain of rubble. They are, indeed, in a helpless situation. The only thing that gives them hope is the incredible faith of people, like little Armand. Finally, there are people like Armand’s father. They see the same mountain of moral and spiritual collapse, but they refuse to give up.
Consider a beautiful example of one of these people.
The mother of Dr. Ben Carson grew up in terrible poverty in Detroit. Her husband left her when Ben was eight.
She found herself and little Ben trapped in a state of moral and spiritual collapse in the world around her. But, instead of despairing, she trusted in the spark of faith in God, deep down within her soul.
That spark of faith gave her the strength to work three low-paying jobs at one time, to make ends meet.
In the midst of it all, she found time to encourage Ben, saying, “You can be anything you want, if you trust that God will help you, if you help yourself.”
Inspired by his mother’s words of hope, Ben did just that.
Today, Dr. Ben Carson is one of our nation’s leading pediatric neurosurgeons and one of its leading voices of hope. Speaking to students at his high school alma mater, he said:
“Think big! Set your sights as high as Mount Everest. Nobody was born to be a failure.” Carson story, retold from Christopher News Notes, February 1993 The story of Armand and his father, the story of Isaiah and the Israelites, and the story of Ben and his mother serve as rays of hope in a world today where many have lost all hope.
These stories are invitations to us to become voices of hope in our world. And the basis for that hope is founded on our faith in Jesus a faith we profess in each Mass when we pray:
Christ has died! Christ has risen! Christ will come again.
This is what Advent is all about. It’s about not losing hope.
It’s about trusting, no matter how dark and hopeless things seem.
It’s about faith in Jesus who came into our world 2,000 years ago, lived, died, rose, and promised to return at the end of time.
And when Jesus does return, we will hear the same voice that the author of the Book of Revelation heard nearly 2,000 years ago when he wrote:
I heard a loud voice speaking from the throne: “Now God’s home is with people! He will live with them, and he will be their God.
He will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain. The old things have disappeared. Revelation 21:4
This is the message of hope in today’s readings. This is the message of hope that we celebrate in this season of Advent.
This is the message of hope we proclaim to all the world when we say:
Christ has died! Christ has risen! Christ will come again.