Second Sunday in Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey
Advent begins by looking at the end of time, the final coming of Christ for which the first coming is a preparation. We celebrate the first coming to prepare for the last. But throughout the centuries prophets who predicted the end of world have one thing in common. They were all wrong. They believed too much. Yet, many others believe too little, as if Christ might never come. Cardinal Newman writes, “Judging by Scripture you would ever be expecting Christ to come. Judging by the world, you would never expect him to come.” Newman warns against becoming infected with the world, what he calls a rusting of the soul. Jesus describes it in two of his most alarming warnings about the last days. In Matthew’s apocalyptic discourse Jesus says, “Because wickedness is multiplied, most people’s love will grow cold” (Mt. 24:12). In Luke’s gospel Jesus says, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk. 18:8). The credulous believe too much, the incredulous believe too little. So, they let wickedness multiply, love grow cold, and faith burn out.
To be prepared for the final coming of Christ, Jesus says: “Watch at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all the things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of man” (Lk. 21:36). There are very few things Jesus tells us to pray for. This is one of them. If we want our love to burn hot and our faith to grow strong, then we need to pray every day for the strength to bear all that is to come and to stand in joy before the Son of man when he appears. Perseverance is a gift of grace. We must pray for it.
Another way to prepare for the final coming of Christ is to receive him kindly in those we meet. I’m told that Nordstrom’s luxury department store is a woman’s paradise. As the holiday season approaches the luxurious atmosphere is accented with beautiful decorations and seasonal music expertly performed by a tuxedoed piano player. Charmed shoppers swarm in and out laden with finely wrapped gifts. One day the beautiful atmosphere was compromised when a bag-lady clad in ill-fitting and filthy clothes walked through the doors. Customers expected security to intervene. But no one tried to stop her as she shuffled through the racks of fine clothes. She went to the most elegant and pricey department of Special Occasions where she was greeted warmly by a smartly-attired saleswoman. Her responses to the bag-lady were solicitous, not patronizing; respectful, not pitying. When the bag lady asked to try on evening dresses, the saleswoman brought over several gowns that were the most flattering and appropriate. She asked the bag lady for her opinion, and let her inspect the gowns and even try them on. After an hour the bag lady decided she was finished and said thank you. She looked different now as she left the store. She held her head higher, her gait was smoother, and there was even happiness in her bearing. A customer asked the employee why she wasted her time with this poor woman. Her response was beautiful. She said, “This is what we are here for: to serve and be kind.” To prepare for the coming of Christ let us be kind to everyone, for Christ can come even as a bag-lady.