First Sunday of Advent

Scripture Readings: Is 2:1-5; Rom 13:11-14; Mt 24:37-44

A Buddhist legend relates how a certain man who was a generous person with many good works to his credit, one day, lost his temper, and struck his own mother who was berating him for going away on a business trip.  Deciding to make the trip anyway, he found himself ship-wrecked and, exploring the island where he landed, he came to a place of horror where there lived a man whose head was being eaten into gradually by a red hot fiery disc.  He asks the man in amazement, what did you do to deserve this torment?  The man says: “I committed a crime, and I am condemned to remain here until a criminal as wicked as myself arrives, but I cannot believe any other man exists who did what I did: struck his own mother.”  Hearing this, the other man, immediately remembered his own crime and in that very instant, the fiery disc flew from the other’s head and buried itself in his head.  Immediately experiencing a pain he had never suffered or imagined possible, he made this astonishing prayer: “May no man ever be unfortunate enough to come and take my place here.”  Instantly, with the utterance of the last word of that prayer, the fiery disc was removed from his head and he was relieved of all pain. 

This Buddhist legend celebrates Christ without ever mentioning his name.  By his prayer, the tormented man substituted himself for the worst criminal and for all criminals: “Let no man, no matter what his crime, ever be subject to this torment.  Let it remain with me, and for all eternity that others may be spared this agony.”  This substitutionary sacrifice of love vindicates the man, transforms him and raises him up to be a hero for the ages.  The Buddhist story-teller marvels at the heroic sacrifice of this man.  What the Buddhist doesn’t know or at least doesn’t profess in faith, is that God did this.  God, the infinite ground of all being; God the creator of the world, consented that the fiery disc, the punishment for our whole history of sin be his torment so that it would not be ours. 

In this morning’s gospel, Jesus says: “Watch.”  Advent is the season when we watch.  What are we watching for?  The Buddhist legend I shared with you is a sign that Christ whom we watch for, has come.  He is, in truth, the Savior of all people, of all Buddhists; of all who have sinned and who are afflicted with the fiery disc and in agony for their sin.  We wait with joyful expectation to meet him who has been meeting us for ages, since the book of Genesis when the Serpent was promised by God: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between her seed and your seed.”  The triumph of Mary’s seed was likewise foretold again and again by all the prophets: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son.”  In Advent, we do not celebrate a man.  We worship God.  God is the hero of our Christian story.  Brothers and sisters, he is coming; coming at an hour you do not expect him and in a way you cannot imagine. Watch, because this is hard to see.  It is hard to see God coming, not because he descends from a place so high, but precisely because he is coming in so low; He is so “under your radar”.  Prepare yourself to be surprised at how low Love will go; how deep into the fire God will go to keep you and I from being burned.  


First Sunday of Advent


First Sunday of Advent

[Scripture Readings: Jer 33:14-16; 1 Thes 3:12-4:2; Lk 21:25-28, 34-36]

"We await the blessed hope and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." We say this at every Mass. Today the Church begins the liturgical season of Advent. This liturgical season is all about that waiting.

Advent is about hope, but hope is not just a virtue we possess. Hope is not just a vague activity of the mind: Christian hope is also the object itself of our waiting: "We await the blessed hope," who is "our Lord Jesus Christ." Jesus Christ, incarnate and in glory, is our Hope. We hope because we are sure of the Presence now among us of the One we wait for, the one who is to coming.

The Christian virtue of Hope is not a wishful thinking or a naive optimism. It is not even the certainty a farmer rightly has of a good harvest after timely planting, careful cultivation, and optimum weather conditions. Christian hope is not about winning the lottery or that decisions from the climate change summit starting tomorrow will effect a change in global warming within five years, or that the recent synod of bishops on the family will settle all questions about sex and gender and marriage, or that ISIS will be overcome and the world made safe from terrorists. As Pope Benedict said, "A world that has to create its own justice is a world without hope."

Rather, Christian hope is faith in a just God "who gives life to the dead and calls into being what does not exist" (Rom 5:17). We do not hope in the success of our efforts; rather, it is Christian hope that makes working for peace in the world an imperative, makes it a godly thing to make room for the marginalized and the poor, it is Christian hope that makes caring for our common home a sacred liturgy. This world will indeed pass away, but only in the sense that an infant passes away and gives place to a mature and healthy adult: only in the sense that a seed dies to yield a hundredfold; only in the sense, as Saint Paul says about the resurrection, that what is sown in dishonor is raised in glory (1 Cor 15:43). Christian hope esteems the present world and the people in it as good and worthy of our love because they are the object of future glory, of salvation, of eternal life.

The Christian does not just have hope; even more, we give hope. It is by our Hope that we bring the Joy of the Gospel to life in desperate and joyless situations. As people of hope, we Christians live differently, and through us, the life of others can be changed for the better.

Our Gospel passage today is so full of confusion and even terror, that we might miss Jesus' idea of us; we might be distracted by all the noise and miss his confident word to us. His idea of us, people of Hope, while everything crashes down around us: Awake, alert, standing firm, heads up, praying. His word to us: "your redemption is at hand." We are like the centurion at the death of Jesus: the sun darkened, the cosmic veil torn in two, the loud voice from the dying Jesus, he stood at the foot of the Cross, before the son of man in his glory, and saw the righteous One, the Hope the prophets had foretold.

This Advent, let us live our hope by being hope,
letting Saint Paul's own hope for us be real:
May the Lord make you … abound in love
for one another and for all,
[may he] strengthen your hearts,
to be blameless in holiness …
at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. Amen.

First Sunday of Advent

[Scripture Readings: Is 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2b-7; I Cor 1:3-9; Mk 13:33-37]

When I entered the monastery, I was given a daily schedule which listed the various activities and the Hours of the Office. In the morning, Tierce was followed by “Repetition.” This didn't mean: “do Tierce again.” “Repetition” was the name they gave to a “class.” I checked the Spiritual Directory to see if there was some deep, hidden or mystic meaning for this vocabulary, But no, it was called “repetition” because the perennial truths of religion and monastic life would be more firmly embedded in docile minds by having them repeated. And repeated. This is not the approach generally taken in education today. We prefer methods which emphasize progressive development, increasing information, and expanding horizons. More is better and the new is even better yet.

But we find ourselves today at the beginning of the Liturgical Cycle, repeating again what we began last Advent. Cycles and repetition can seem artificial and stifling to mentalities formed in the spirit of progression, linear development, and discovery. Show us new territory. But the Church's bringing us back to the beginning is very intentional and deliberate. The very development of the season of Advent was the result of a creative and imaginative consciousness of the early Church. Advent did not become incorporated into the Church's liturgical memory and celebration until the fifth or sixth century. The Church “worked backwards” in unfolding the implications of the Paschal Mystery of Christ. From its experience of the Risen and Exalted Christ, it found the key to interpret the meaning and intention of God in the unfolding of history. The mystery of Christ is the key to the meaning of time and history and offers it an understanding which it cannot realize of itself. “You do not know when the Lord of the house is coming.” It is a revelation which reveals the ignored and submerged call and responsibility that is the real ground of human dignity and hope. “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” “Why do you let us wander from your ways and harden our hearts so that we fear you not.” This is the oblivion of God that condemns us to useless repetitions, the compulsive cycles of trying to find salvation in more and newer forms of the self-defeating and self-destructive patterns that have enclosed our character and culture. “O, that you would rend the heavens and come down.”

The mystery of Advent returns us to our beginnings. With the understanding we receive from the light of Christ's mystery, we can approach the hidden and unknown roots of our being. We can “work backwards” into the influences and connections that flow into our lives from sources beyond our conscious grasp. We “do not know” very much at all. Watching is often an essential path into knowing. We don't know exactly what to look for, and thus our vision expands to take in more. We don't know when, and thus patience become a way of reimagining time and loosening its boundaries. To watch is to find a new way of relating to an ever-expanding reality around us. Our beginnings are woven into communities of tradition and life that find new expression in us.

The mystery of Advent returns us to nature. The rhythms of seasons and time allow the unfolding of life, constantly building on the losses and passages of one stage as necessary for the emergence of the next. Nature itself becomes bare and dormant, but clear of distractions which obstruct the horizon. It is not productive, but withdraws into itself to gather an inner strength. It is a sober time, calling for sobriety, clarity, simplicity and temperance. It is a time of transition which allows us to reassess those roles which we have adopted in society. We are invited to be intentional, to live deliberately out of an intention and meaning that is offered to us. To watch is to be attentive, inventive, and mindful of the way our external life is manifesting the cares and real desires of our hearts. Each servant has been given “his own work”, has become a steward of a gift and grace. “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways.” It is too easy to stop watching, to let the immediacy and imperatives of action and tasks obstruct our view of a wider horizon and an obedience to an inner integrity. Our busy-ness seems to legitimize our self-preoccupation. At a recent speech given to the European Parliament, Pope Francis warned against the growing bureaucratization of government which comes to be seen as “aloof, engaged in laying down rules perceived as insensitive to individual peoples, if not downright harmful. Our personal lives can become bureaucratic systems, insensitive and unresponsive to actual needs, smothered in personal rules, and skimming over the surface of life. In fact, becoming unnatural and even inhuman.

To watch is to connect our life with the great intention and meaning that God is working out in history, nature, and creation. To watch is to be present in a way that allows us to feel. As Michael Casey recently told us, there is no religion with a sense of being touched by God, without feeling and devotion. “You, O Lord, are our father; we are the clay and you the potter; we are all the work of your hands.” Perhaps we need to allow ourselves feel the thumbs of God pressing and reshaping the clay of our lives. Watching is being attentive to God's intention, in a sober and simple awareness, in a patient appreciation and learning that occurs through our experience. The willingness to be attuned in harmony and service to the needs of others and of creation slowly unfolds in our waiting. We are invited to enter into Advent's silence, sobriety, and stillness and to let that silence, sobriety, and stillness enter us.

First Sunday of Advent

[Scripture Readings: Is 63:16b-17, 19b, 64:2b-7; 1 Cor 1:3-9; Mk 13:33-37]

Today is all about beginnings and endings—beginning of the end you could say! First of all it is the ending of the Sacramentary and the beginning of the Roman Missal. This will be a golden opportunity for us to listen more carefully to the words of our most important prayers.

It is also the day we begin to celebrate the 175th anniversary of our Archdiocese. The history of New Melleray is almost co-terminous with the Archdiocese. I heard recently that Bishop Loras used to come regularly here to get a break from the Irish in a part of town called Little Dublin who did not appreciate his French temperament. The Irish monks were much more hospitable, as well they should be, since the Bishop gave them 600 acres of land to start their monastery. An anniversary is a time when you look back at all there was with gratitude and look to the future with hope, a time to say yes to your existence.

Today also marks the beginning of the end of our Visitation. Dom Augustine flies back to Mt. Melleray this afternoon and we begin the phase of the visitation called implementation. I have a very good feeling this will be a good time for our community renewal. We thank Dom Augustine and wish him God speed on his journey.

Finally it is the beginning of Advent—the season of hope and desire. Winter is close at hand when things calm down and grow a little more silent and it is easier to focus our attention on what is important. Advent is like an anniversary also where we put on the mind of all those who waited for Christ and how we too wait and long for his coming into our life and meditate on all the times he has visited us in mystery. Pretty soon the noise of Christmas will impress itself into many people’s lives but we work hard to keep the clutter of Christmas out of the monastery.

So what do we focus on this Advent season? I would suggest simplicity of our inner life. This is not easy because we are complex individuals. How complex is described in our first reading from Isaiah. In eight short verses he has the human heart addressing God in so many different tones of voice. There is tenderness when we call God Father, there is blaming when we ask why did he let us wander from him, there is puzzlement over why things are so bad on earth, there is pleading for God to come out of heaven and set things straight because the wicked seem to prosper and there is the pain we feel when our guilt is forced upon us. Then there is a hint of something wonderful God will do in the future, something beyond our wildest imagination. Finally all this complexity is resolved in the simple and beautiful acknowledgement that comes form our heart through the prophet when he says, “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father, we are the clay and you the potter” (Is. 63:7).

I like the way the image of the potter and clay unify this passage. It is as if the prophet is saying every thing earthy about us, our infidelities, our sins, our divine aspirations and deep desires to do well, our failings and successes, enumerated above, all flow into the clay that God is forming into something beautiful. Clay is a composite, after all, a mixture of the pure and the impure just as we are. But it is better than this because, “The Lord God formed us out of the clay of the ground and blew into our nostrils the breath of life”(Gen 2:7). So we are a composite of earth and heaven of human and divine. We are very aware of our humanness but how aware are we that the breath of God is in us, the very Spirit of God?

So when we hear in today’s Gospel, “Be watchful, be alert” and be like a steward left we a treasure to guard, we can say God has left us with a treasure in earthen vessels. We are to be stewards of our own life. One of the things we have to be watchful for during this season of Advent is not to externalize the mystery of God with us and lose ourselves in the symbols—the decorations; the crib sets, the nice Christmas music. Our Cistercian Fathers were fond of this quotation from St. Paul, “Even if once we knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer” (2 Cor.5:16). Christ comes to us as a Spirit now and we have to be watchful for his coming. We have to pay attention to what is spiritual in us, our heart. The clay of the potter has to be centered, if it is out of true it wobbles and the walls cave in. This Advent let us try to remain centered in our spirit, in our heart. We have been anointed with the Spirit in our being, in our heart, in our soul. We must guard our heart for as Proverbs says, in it is the source of life (Prov. 4:23).

The Wisdom of God teaches us that the words of Scripture are health for our being. This Advent let us stay close to the source of life in our hearts let us meditate on the words of Scripture hold them close and dear they are health for our being.

First Sunday of Advent

[Scripture Readings: Is. 2: 1-5; Rom. 13: 11-14; Mt. 24: 37-44]

It is not unusual for us to experience a certain amount of anxiety when we think about the future. The degree of anxiety will vary depending on what we expect the future to bring. If we see our future situation positively our optimism will probably outweigh our apprehension. On the other hand, if we are apprehensive about the future, anxiety will probably come to the fore. We have a variety of ways of coming to terms with anxiety. At the personal level using our imaginations to create alternative futures is one popular method of coping. On the national level we spend a good deal of time and money on polls, market research and a variety of forecasting techniques. In and of itself prudent planning for the future makes sense, and not planning for the future would be irresponsible. However, an excessive concern for the future can be an obstacle to prudent action in the present, which is probably our most effective means of being ready for the future whatever it may bring.

I think it is significant that when it comes to our eternal future, which puts all our other futures into perspective, the gospels tell us little about what to expect. They use the imagery of contemporary Jewish apocalyptic to make the point that life will be radically transformed; that we will give an account to God in regard to how we have lived; and that how we have lived will have serious consequences for our future. Beyond that the consistent message of the New Testament is that we do not know when or how the Lord will come and that the best way to prepare for the Lord’s coming is to conform our lives to Christ and his teaching here and now.

The Advent season that we are beginning this morning calls us to reflect on the Lord’s coming with hope. We have hope for the future whatever it may bring because we have faith in the Christmas message that God loved us so much that the Second Person of the Trinity became one of us and offered his life so that we might enter into the fullness of life. Yet, we are surrounded by a society that to a disturbing extent reduces the hope for life to hope for economic success and material comfort. As a result life is valued in terms of economic productivity and the extent to which it promotes or impedes material well-being; not as God’s gift to be united with him in happiness. Given the pervasiveness of a materialist mindset in our society and its accompanying self-serving ethics, we may feel that there is little that we can do to change things.

If we fall victim to the materialist mindset that we oppose, that will be true. But we have an alternative. Our alternative is hope that arises from putting our faith into practice and living according to the example and teachings of Jesus Christ. By living in faith and hope we will be enabled to share our hope with those who enter our lives from day to day. There is a Confucian saying that frequently comes to my mind: It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness. As we light our Advent candles this Advent season we would do well to remember that through our lives of faith and hope we ourselves are called to be candles bringing the light of the gospel to those around us who live in darkness.

First Sunday of Advent

[Scripture Readings: Jer 33:14-16; 1 Thess 3:12-4:2; Luke 21:25-36]

Perplexing signs in the sun, the moon and the stars. Frightening sounds with the roaring of the sea and the waves. Persecutions and unceasing troubles among families and nations. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world with the shaking of the powers of the heavens (Luke 21:26). More tribulations are expected to come! Oh no, not again, we might say. And yes, that is what the prophecies say.

When we have ended the past liturgical year, the frightening forecast about the end of the world was what we heard the Church proclaiming. And now with the new liturgical year, we are again reminded of what is to come and how it comes. Oh no…Oh, yes! That is how it is.

Well, let’s put it this way. It is the back-to-back realistic message of the Gospel, like the two sides of a coin. It is like the two ends of a necklace chain, which nonetheless meets to carry and uphold a beautiful pendant, a treasure. The treasure despite all these foreboding events of the world’s end is that the Lord, the Son of Man is coming in glory. Behind the dust and the rubbles with the destruction of the old world, a new world is coming. That is the message of the new Church year that we are facing. After all, it is not that terrifying. If we are afraid to go through the inconvenience and discomfort in renovation and reconstruction, we will not enjoy the comforts and pleasure of a new or renovated home. I understand that among the retreatants with us, some heard the news of a blizzard and even had seven to ten inches of snow prior to their coming here. Oh no, not this time. Oh no, not again. And yet they braved the snows—with caution and courage, and here they are with us. I hope that after all, they say, it’s all worth it.

Israel was in exile with all the disheartening experiences they were in—the separation from families, the loss of lives and properties, the disintegration of their nation and the possible disappearance or dilution of their culture and faith, the apparent absence of God. It was the experience of the end of their world. This is the context when the prophet Jeremiah had to preach the Good News from the Lord. Amidst their desperate situation, the Lord announces a new and hopeful setting for Judah and Jerusalem. The Lord fulfills his covenant promises, and the people will be known by their God of justice. Indeed, the Lord has promised and he fulfills it.

However, what do we see in Israel? In July, 2006, there was the bomb and missile fights between Israel and Lebanon. There is the unending strife between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Jerusalem is supposed to be the “city of peace.” And so far, it is the last thing that you can feel around it. Yet the Lord promises that peace—yes, it is peace, however, not just on a spot, but all over, not just on a specific people, but on all who believe and are ready to receive it. God’s promise has actually been fulfilled with the coming of his Son on earth—at that place we call the Holy Land. But his gift of peace and salvation is meant for all, including us. He has come but he will come definitively to us – at the end of days. This is what we celebrate and hope to see fulfilled.

In the gospel today, the Lord gives us a twofold counsel on what to do. Negatively, we have to beware that our hearts become drowsy (Luke 21:34). Some translations put it, “Beware that your spirits get bloated.” Last night, we were discussing how vivid the imageries are: drowsy hearts, bloated spirits. They depict intoxication or a belly full of foul gas. One may be full either of spirits or food, but one feels like a fool. Avoid being that, says the Lord. We can do that by overcoming carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life. In driving, drinking is incompatible inasmuch as one loses alertness and proper sense of judgment to stay on the road, especially in the dark or on a slippery road. It applies too in our journey of life. Drunkenness with false spirits or a bloated life in pride and delusion can veer us off the way to the Lord. So it is true with undue anxieties in life. In this way, we focus so much on ourselves and not on the Lord who alone can direct us to our salvation.

Positively then, to prepare for the Lord’s coming, the Lord advises us, “Be vigilant at all times and pray for strength(21:36). We turn not gazing downward in desolation, but upward in hope to the Lord. We remain watchful and patient so that as he comes even inconspicuously and in ordinary events, we perceive his presence and can welcome him.

Prayers—yes, that is how we can best await the Lord’s coming. St. Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians emphasizes this (1 Thess 3:12-4:2). He actually makes a threefold prayer for all of us. His prayers can be our own. First, we pray for an increase in the love for one another and for all (3:12). As a community of believers, we prepare in this season of Advent. We help one another through fraternal love. Second, we pray that our hearts do not get drowsy but be strengthened to keep us walking blamelessly in holiness before God (3:13). We should have the constant mindfulness of the Lord. Through spiritual activities and sacrifices, we fortify our hearts in desiring to meet our God. Lastly, as the apostle exhorts us, we have to continue and keep pleasing God, that is, to do another mile on the road to holiness (4:1). In our Christian life, we never retire. We may get tired at times, but we keep moving on. We may rest always awhile in the Lord, such as in a retreat, but we have to keep going on. As we advance in years, we tend to settle for our comfort zones. However, in the life of the Lord, the only comfort zone we can truly have is in the Lord. I may get less mobile and less active through circumstances in life or as we go through life, but we remain on the path to closer intimacy with the Lord. Do so even more, St. Paul reminds us. At the sharing last night, one of us remarked, that is frightening! Yes, because we have to keep struggling to be holy, but that is the more exciting thing. As we come closer to the Lord and begin to see and perceive him closer, the more we want to finally attain that union. We never grow slack waiting for the one we love. We may fall and even stumble but we stand up and move on. The Lord itself is the magnet that draws us closer to him.

Here is vivid clue from the Church. To mark the Advent season, we light each week a candle to mark the spot how far we have to go and how far we have gone. We lighted the first candle, and so on. In doing so, we know where we are. We always say, oh, how time flies fast! These candles can also serve as markers in our life. They could be representing months, or years for us in drawing near to the Lord. It could be frightening, but it is all the more exciting, depending on where your focus is. We watch for the Lord’s coming to us, and how excited we are to finally meet him. Moreover, the candles of our life serve as lights to guide others in their own journey to the Lord. We have others to thank for and there are others who thank us too. That is truly exciting. As in a procession of lights by the wise virgins, how blessed are we then as we truly hope to be in the Lord’s final fellowship. Now for a rehearsal yet a real one, we have the Eucharist to celebrate. The Lord comes to us—and how joyful we are to meet and receive him.

First Sunday of Advent

[Scripture Readings: Is 2:1-5; Rom 13:11-14; Mt 24:37-44]

Fr. StephenIn one of the Peanuts comic strips, Linus says to Sally Brown, “I believe the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch on Halloween … bringing toys for children. That’s what I believe. What do you think?” Sally looks at him for a time and then says, “I think you have very nice eyes and are completely out of your mind.” Undaunted, Linus continues to believe. That evening he and Charlie Brown hurry down to the pumpkin patch to keep watch. Suddenly, a large dark head rises in the moonlight and Linus exclaims, “There he is, there he is! It’s the Great Pumpkin rising up out of the patch!” As the large dark head becomes clearer they see the long floppy ears of Snoopy with his Mona Lisa grin. In spite of disappointment they naively continue believing, and each Halloween they watch for the coming of the Great Pumpkin.

Linus and Sally Brown

After almost two thousand years we continue to believe the Son of Man will come, perhaps soon. Are we out of our minds? Is it realistic to do what the Lord tells us in the parable about the householder: “If the master of the house knew at what hour the thief was coming, he would stay awake and not let his house be broken into. You also must be prepared…”? The people of Noah’s day were not prepared. They went on living normally, eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. But they didn’t believe, so, of course, they took no action. We believe, but are we prepared? Is there a breakdown between what we believe and what we do?

To believe without taking action is the theme of Shakespeare’s drama about Hamlet. The prince believed his father, the king, was murdered by Claudius, the king’s brother. Hamlet, however, takes no action against his uncle to revenge the murder. Even though the young prince was very gifted, the perfect pattern of manhood, rich in qualities as a scholar, soldier and courtier, possessing wit, sensitivity and exceptional intelligence, he lacked the will power to act.Even though his murdered father was so dearly loved that the earth has seldom produced his equal, and so deserved to be swiftly revenged, Hamlet finds many ways to dawdle and delay. The ghost of his dead father appeared to him and told his son to take revenge. Hamlet vowed to be quick. The ghost of the dead king appears to Prince Hamlet But as the play moves forward he does nothing.

It’s not that he disbelieves the testimony of his father’s ghost. So he asks himself, “Am I a coward? Pigeon-livered, lacking gall?” Supposing he needs confirmation, some assurance, he plots to trick his uncle into revealing his guilt. Under the weight of the ordeal, however, Hamlet vacillates and wonders if it wouldn’t be easier just to die and so end his heartache. He says, “To be or not to be: that is the question.” But he dreads what might happen after death, and decides he would “rather bear those ills we have, than fly to others that we know not of…”

An opportunity to take revenge presents itself when Hamlet comes upon his uncle alone at prayer. Even then he does nothing. He makes excuses, thinking that to kill his uncle at prayer might dispatch him to heaven rather than to hell which he deserves. At length his father’s ghost reappears and, in effect, tells his son, “Quit talking and get on with it.” Even then it is not until the last possible moment that Hamlet stabs his uncle with a poisoned tipped foil. He does it only as a last desperate act, when he himself is dying, after he was tricked by the villain Claudius and treacherously poisoned by the same foil in a duel. To believe without taking action is a common human weakness, a sloth of body and soul. It is more blameworthy to believe without taking action than not to believe at all, like the people of Noah’s day.

Be prepared!So, at the beginning of Advent we are warned to wake from sleep, to keep watch, to shake off our lethargy, to conduct ourselves properly, not in “orgies and drunkenness, promiscuity and licentiousness, rivalry and jealousy.” Certainly not in murder and revenge. Rather, “Stay awake and put on the Lord Jesus.” But must we give up sleeping and rising, eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage? Are we to stop living normal lives? Is that what it means to be prepared? No, because the Lord says, “Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left.” Outwardly, their daily lives were quite normal. But inwardly, they were different. One was awake, the other was not. One was prepared, the other was not. To keep watch so that the thief cannot break into one’s house means above all to guard one’s heart. It is the pure of heart who are wide awake, who already have the kingdom of heaven within them, who have put on the Lord Jesus. It is love for Christ and each other put into practice that makes us prepared.

One evening a nurse escorted a tired, anxious young lad to the bedside of an elderly man who was dying. She said to the father, “He is here, he has come at last.” The patient was heavily sedated because of the pain from his cancer and failing heart. He could not see or think clearly. Anxiously, he reached out and wrapped his fingers around his boy’s hand. All through the night the young man sat at the bedside holding his hand, squeezing messages of encouragement, gently caressing and loving him. At dawn the father died. The young man placed his lifeless hand across the father’s chest while the nurse offered words of sympathy. Then he asked, “What is his name?” She looked at him with astonishment and said, “But isn’t he your father?” “No, he replied.” She said, “Then why didn’t you tell me?” He answered, “Because I saw that he needed his son, and his son wasn’t here. When I realized how much he was comforted by thinking I was his son, I stayed to do what his boy was not doing, to keep watch with him until the Lord’s coming.” Which of the two boys do you think was out of his mind?