This December, is your goal to survive the stressful holiday season? Or to thrive in Advent watchfulness? At the beginning of Advent, Jesus urges us to watch for his Coming as if we were watching for a thief.
He says to us, “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of the night when the thief was coming he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect the Son of Man will come.” (Mt. 24:42-44)
When I was serving as a priest on the reservation, we had a few break-ins. Afterwards, I had nightmares that burglars were in the house. In the middle of the night, I would wake up and listen for someone in the house. You know how your vision sharpens in the dark and you listen to the tiniest sounds? That intensifies when you add the fear of watching for a thief in the dark.
The verb “stay awake” means to be vigilant and alert, or to be on the watch. St. Paul used the same images in his letter to the Thessalonians. He wrote, “You yourselves know that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. . . . Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober.” (1 Th. 5:2,6) The image of the Lord coming like a thief in the night was striking for the first Christians. They never forgot it. It challenged them to watch for the Lord with intensity.
Sometimes we think it refers only to the Final Coming of Jesus at the end of time. But in Advent, we consider three different occasions in which Jesus comes to us. First, we recall that he came 2,000 years ago as the Light of the human race shining in the darkness. Second, we look forward to the end of time when he will come in glory to conquer all evil.
But there is a third coming in between those two. It is equally important. He comes to us daily in the grace of the Holy Spirit so that we might shine as a light in a dark world and conquer evil in our day. To be on the watch is to be alert for his presence every day. It means not only to keep watch for his Coming, but also to act in accord with his ways.
What gets in the way of keeping watch? What distracts you from shining as a light in a dark world?
For many, it is all the time absorbed in social media or with news stories that repeat the same information ad nauseam. Adults spend almost 2½ hours a day watching news channels and slightly more time social networking on YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram. Some are probably doing both at the same time. For youth, gaming occupies much of their spare time. Kids play an average of 15 hours of video games a week.
One way to have a good Advent is to take a break from gaming, news programs or social networking. Watch what happens to your spirit, when you spend so much time doing that. Are you more hopeful? Are you bringing light to those in the darkness? Or do those activities distract you and wear you down with incessant negativity?
That is exactly what young adults are saying. A recent survey showed that among those 25 years or younger, 64% are taking a break from one or more kinds of social media, and 34% completely quit social media. They listed several reasons: it was a waste of time, the negativity of content, privacy concerns and too much pressure to get attention.
There are a few other good reasons to take a break: it is good for your spiritual life, and you will have more hope. That is, if you spend more time keeping watch for the Lord: being quiet in nature, reading a spiritual book, reflecting on Scripture, praying a rosary, etc.
Christians are meant to bring the Light of Christ to the turmoil in the world. We shine with Light by watching with hope and working for justice. But we can only do that when we are centered on Christ because the darkness is daunting. It is so dark out there.
Here are a few examples. In our world, 8,500 children die each day from a lack of proper nutrition. In the USA, there are 2,360 abortions a day, which means that 18% of pregnancies end in abortion. In Wyoming 2% of pregnancies end in abortion, the lowest rate in the nation. World-wide 70.8 million people are refugees or displaced due to violence, the most ever recorded in history. Many are displaced within their own country of origin, but 25.9 million are refugees in foreign countries. Also, roughly half of all refugees are children. That’s about 12 ½ million kids!
It is easy to be indifferent to our least brothers and sisters. At times, people say that I focus too much on this topic. However, Jesus said, “Whatever you did to the least brothers of mine, you did to me.” (Mt. 25:40) On World Day for Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis spoke out against the “culture of comfort” that leads to “indifference” in the face of the refugee crisis. Those of us who live in such comfort can easily be indifferent to the plight of our suffering brothers and sisters. Instead of listening to their stories, we quickly describe them as “illegal” and therefore as undeserving of our help.
Christians are meant to bring the Light of Christ to the turmoil in the world. We shine with Light by watching with hope and working for justice. But we can only do that when we are centered in Christ because the darkness is daunting. Are you watching with hope and working for justice?
One thing that helps me is to read modern day saints. One of my favorites is St. Oscar Romero. He gave a homily for Christmas in 1979 which is filled with hope. Yet, he had every reason to be depressed. In the three years prior, he had buried several priests who were murdered. Among those priests were his close friend Fr. Rutilio Grande and Fr. Octavio Ortiz, who was like a son to him. Not only priests were being killed, but also catechists were shot, then Bibles were placed on top of their dead bodies as a warning to other catechists.
Yet Romero had such hope in the power of God. This is what he said in that Christmas homily: “This country is giving birth to a new time. . . These times of suffering will also pass! . . . we are called to live with the optimism that tells us that, even though we don’t know how, God will bring our country out of its troubles, and in the new moment which is to come, the good news of Jesus Christ will still be shining.” (p. 422, Memories in Mosaic)
Romero was watching with hope and working for justice. He was more hopeful than most of us who experience far less darkness. He worked relentlessly for justice despite such terrible corruption. It was the Salvadoran National Guard who had murdered the priests and catechists.
Where did he get such hope? He was centered in Christ. He had a consistent prayer life. In the words of St. Paul, he “put on the armor of Light . . . he put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 13:11,14). With those images Paul is reminding us of our baptism. At baptism we are clothed with Christ, given his Holy Spirit and his power to do good. We were dressed in the armor of his light to do battle with the forces of darkness.
Every day we have to keep putting on the armor of Light. Being clothed in Christ is a grace, so this clothing is received in prayer. Also, the Eucharist renews the grace of Baptism and keeps the power of the Risen Lord alive in our hearts. Without prayer and the Sacraments, we can feel so weak in the dreary dark world.
This December, will you thrive in Advent watchfulness? We are called to keep watch with hope and to shine as a light in a dark world.