Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7; 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9;Mark 13:33-37

Turning Over Stones

Here are some stones I have overturned to see what ideas are underneath. I hope you can grab hold of something, pull -- and discover that it has some homiletic roots.

Leaving the readings of Ordinary time, year A and progressing into the readings of the first Sunday of Advent, year B is a bit like traveling from East Brookfield, Massachusetts into West Brookfield, Massachusetts -- Besides driving by the -- Entering West Brookfield -- sign, one might not notice a big transition.

The punch of the 32nd Sunday, year A, was to stay awake -- for you know neither the day nor the hour. The punch of the 33rd Sunday, year A was to use wisely the gifts God has given you; for you know not when He will return to discover how you have used them. The punch of the 34th Sunday (Christ the King), year A, was that judgment is intimately tied to the charitability directed toward the least of the brothers of Jesus; and that you do not know when the final judgment comes.

The punch of the Gospel of this Sunday is to be watchful, to be alert; for one does not know when the lord of the house plans on returning. May he not come suddenly and fine you asleep!

Despite this continuity, a new liturgical year begins, a new season begins, new colors decorate the sanctuary, and the advent wreath is dusted off and set up. Further, we now wait for more than just the final judgment -- we also wait for the coming of the Christ child to enter the world as our savior.

The whole of Chapter 13 in the Gospel of Mark strikes me as a -- Hurry up and wait! -- chapter. On the one hand, Jesus says to watch out for yourselves, to be watchful, and to be alert that he may not find you sleeping. On the other hand, Jesus says that many will come in his name saying -- I am he. Further, you will hear of wars, feel earthquakes, suffer from famines, witness the destruction of the Temple, experience persecutions, behold signs and wonders, and watch celestial phenomena -- BUT, do not be troubled; for these things are bound to happen and they will not mark the end.

Perhaps the living out of this -- Hurry up and wait! -- existence is portrayed in the characters in this mini parable:

It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.

Perhaps we have to be like servants doing our own work, not getting distracted with what the world points to as apocalyptic signs; and like the gatekeeper too -- on the watch -- waiting for the lord of the house to return. Striking this balance may be tricky; but if we move exclusively to one extreme we become workaholics blinding ourselves from the coming of Christ. If we move to the other extreme we become apocalyptic storm chasers who are too busy watching for signs to remember to love God and to love our neighbor.

Each of us has to find this balance.

I think that I personally do okay in the servant department. However, being a gatekeeper at the same time can be a challenge. One sobering way that I remind myself to be the gatekeeper is to stop a few times in the middle of my week and proclaim -- if it all ends right now and Jesus comes back in all His glory to judge the nations -- then I am in BIG trouble!

I usually think this thought in the midst of some impatient tantrum during my week -- when I am sitting in my car in the Dunkin Donuts drive thru wondering why the line is not moving and speculating what special order the buffoon in the first car might be bickering about with the drive-up window cashier; or, when I stand in front of the photocopier that I just turned on wondering why we can put a man on the moon but we can not invent a photocopier that takes less than 5 minutes to warm up; or when I drive around the parking lot of Holy Cross College like a madman trying to find a parking place wondering if the trustees ever bothered to compare the amount of available parking places with the amount of enrolled students. During all of these episodes my blood begins to boil and I find myself without an iota of patience.

My spirit can fall into such discord during these silly tantrums of impatience that I am not quite sure where I would end up if I were judged at that moment. Nevertheless, by making a connection between my state of being at that moment and the possibility of the second coming of Christ at ANY moment, I step into the shoes of the gatekeeper and begin to lower my blood pressure by attempting to think and feel charitably.

We all have these moments during our week; or perhaps it is a relationship that needs to be repaired or forgiveness that needs to be sought or given. In any case, we need to ask ourselves the questions now and then -- if it all ends right now, what kind of shape am I in to meet Jesus? Have I been both a good servant and an attentive gatekeeper?

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