December 1st is the first day of Advent. Traditionally we have seen Advent as a time of waiting for God to come to us. But Advent is really a reminder that it is we who are on our way back home to God; and that when our time on earth comes to an end, we will have to account for what we did and what we failed to do along the way.
The readings and gospels during Advent call us to wake up, to snap out of it and pay attention to our own readiness to stand before God. In the first reading on December 1st, the Prophet Isaiah tells us to put away the weapons of anger and bitterness and to walk in the light of the Lord. In the second reading Saint Paul tells us to awake from sleep, to stop kidding ourselves, lying to ourselves about what’s important in life, and to throw off the works of darkness. In Saint Matthew’s gospel, Jesus calls us to remember and not repeat the mistakes of the people in Noah’s time. They were so preoccupied with their own wants and needs; they didn’t believe anything bad would ever happen, that they would ever be called to account. And then one day out of nowhere the flood came and wiped out their work, their preoccupations and their lives.
The Church uses the readings and gospels during Advent to help us recognize the transitory nature of much of what preoccupies and consumes us. None of it will last. This doesn’t mean that we become piously detached from everyday life and its responsibilities. We can still plow the fields and commute to work; we can still grind the flour and raise our families. But we can do all this in a mindful way that carries God’s love and mercy into all the circles of our life.
While most of what preoccupies and consumes us will not last, the one thing that will last is love. Throughout the gospel Jesus tells us that we must love and forgive others unconditionally: this includes those who are most in need, and those whom we may not like very much, and even those whom we have a hard time forgiving or embracing. This is the measure against which we will be held accountable.
Advent is our reminder that one day when we least expect it, we will stand before God to account for how much we really did love and forgive other people. Let’s not be like those people in the time of Noah. Let’s stay awake and be ready for that day. There can be no unfinished business.