1st Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 63:16–17; 64:2–7; 1 Corinthians 1:3–9; Mark 13:33–37

Be on Guard!
“You do not know when the master of the home is coming.”

One December day
16-year-old Gary Schneider and two friends set out on a four-day climb up Mt. Hood. Nine thousand feet up, a blinding snowstorm engulfed the three boys. Soon the snow was drifting over their heads. They tunneled into a snowbank
to get out of the driving wind and to wait out the blizzard.

Eleven days later the blizzard continued to rage. The boys’ sleeping bags grew wet and lumpy. Their food supply dwindled to a daily ration of two spoonfuls of pancake batter apiece. Their sole comfort was a small Bible
one of the boys had packed in his gear.

The boys took turns reading it, eight hours a day. It was an eerie scene: three teenage boys propped up on elbows in sleeping bags in a five-foot square cave of snow. The only light was a spooky, reflected light coming from the cave’s tiny opening.

There the three boys remained huddled together hour after hour, day after day, listening to the Word of God against a background of howling wind.

The Book of Psalms seemed to speak best to the boys’ situation. David wrote some of them
while trapped in situations not unlike theirs—hungry, lonely, not knowing what was ahead,
trusting in God. If rescue came, it would have to come from God.

Waiting like this was not easy. All the boys could do was pray,
hoping the blizzard would blow itself out and help would come.

Finally on the 16th day, the weather cleared and the boys crawled out of their snow cave. They were weak from the ordeal and could manage only a few steps at a time.
Later that day they caught sight of a rescue part. Their long ordeal of waiting was finally ended.

The story of the boys—huddled together in the cave,
waiting for the storm to end—is a good image of Advent.

The season of Advent recalls Israel’s long period of waiting for the Messiah. Israel could do nothing to hasten his coming.
All they could do was wait and pray, as the boys did on
Mt. Hood. All they could do was trust that God would come to their rescue.

One of the psalms the three boys prayed over and over on
Mt. Hood was Psalm 130. A portion of it reads:

“I wait eagerly for the LORD’s help. and in his word I trust.
I wait for the Lord more eagerly than sentries wait for the dawn.” Psalm 130:5–6

Had the boys not had the Word of God to strengthen them,
they could have easily lost hope.

It was the same way with Israel
as they waited for the Messiah. Had they not had the Word of God to comfort them, they could have easily lost hope.

But Advent is not just a time when we recall and relive Israel’s waiting for the Messiah, Jesus. It is much more than that.

Advent is also a time when we recall that Jesus will return at the end of history—at a time we least expect. That’s why Mark tells us in today’s gospel:

“Be on watch, be alert, . . . If [Jesus] comes suddenly,
he must not find you asleep. What I say to you, then, I say to all: Watch!” Mark 13:33, 36–37

This brings us to the second point about Advent. You and I live in the important interval between Jesus’ first coming and his second coming.

Our job is not to sit piously and stare at the sky, recalling Jesus’ first coming and anticipating his second coming.
Our job is to complete the work he gave us to do. Before returning to his Father, Jesus told his followers:

“Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son,
and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything
I have commanded you. And I will be with you always,
to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19–21
Advent is a time when we check on how well we are doing this.

Advent is a time when we call to mind, in a special way,
that when Jesus returns he will judge us on how well we worked to spread God’s kingdom on earth.

Christ had died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
Until he does, we must be about the work he gave us to do.

We must feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, work for peace, and love one another as Jesus loved us.

This is the message of today’s readings. It tells us that the same Jesus who lived on earth 2,000 years ago will return at the end of time—at an hour we least expect. When he returns,
he will judge each one of us, individually, on how well we completed the work he gave us to do.

Let us close with a prayer, asking Jesus to help us persevere
in the work he gave us to do:

Jesus, give us your strength, For sometimes things get tough, and we want to quit.

Jesus, give us your love, For sometimes people reject us, and we are tempted to hate.

Jesus, give us your eyes. For sometimes life gets cloudy and dark, and we love our way.
Jesus, give us yourself. Our hearts were made for you, and they will not rest until they rest in you.

Series II
1st Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 63:16–17, 19; 64:2–7; 1 Corinthians 1:3–9; Mark 13:33–37

Watch Out!
It could be much later than we think.

Robert Sikorsky writes a syndicated column on automobiles. He’s also the author of a famous book on cars. It’s called Drive It Forever.

In 1986 Sikorsky bought himself a 1984 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera sedan. A topflight mechanic fixed it up until it was pronounced to be “just like new.’’

As part of an investigative report he was hired to do, Sikorsky then drove the car across the country, stopping at 225 garages in 33 states. His job was to evaluate the competency and honesty of garage mechanics.

Before stopping at a garage, he’d pull a spark-plug wire loose
from the engine. This caused the motor to run roughly. A loose wire is something even a novice mechanic can quickly detect.

What happened in those 225 garages when the mechanic looked under the hood? Listen to Sikorsky’s own words:

“I got a satisfactory repair only 44 percent of the time. In the other 56 percent, mechanics performed unnecessary work, sold unnecessary parts, or charged for repairs not done. Worse, some of their work created new engine problems.”

100 useless remedies were prescribed. They ranged in cost from $2 to more than $500.

Consider an example that occurred at the auto center for a national retailer in Tucson, Arizona. Sikorsky had his wife take the car in. Again, here’s his own description of what happened:

“Somebody reconnected the wire. But she was charged $29.95 for a ‘carburetor adjustment’ and a timing check. The carburetor on our 1984 Olds was factory-sealed,
and should not be adjusted.’’ “Highway Robbery,’’ Reader’s Digest (May 1987)

Sikorsky ends his investigative report by warning motorists to be on their guard when it comes to garage mechanics. There are some very good ones out there, but there are also some very bad ones.

You’re probably asking yourselves, What’s the link between Sikorsky’s report and the season of Advent that begins today?

The answer is simple. Sikorsky’s automotive message to motorists and Jesus’ Advent message to us are exactly the same. Both are messages telling us to be on our guard.
Jesus begins today’s gospel with the words,
“Be on watch, be alert, . . . .” And he ends with the words, “Watch!”

We know what Sikorsky is warning us to watch out for, but what is Jesus warning us to watch out for? What is he warning us to guard against?

Jesus is warning us to watch out for his coming at the end of the world or at the end of our lives, whichever comes first.

He’s warning us that his coming could catch us off guard.
It could catch us totally unprepared.

Put more positively, he’s exhorting us to begin living as we should. He is exhorting us to stop procrastinating and to begin living in such a way that if he came tonight, we would be ready and prepared for his coming.

He is urging us to be on our guard against letting our life slip away without doing the things we should be doing.

Let me illustrate with an example. Tom Anderson of Bernardsville, New Jersey, rented an ocean cottage for a
two-week vacation.

Before driving to the beach with his wife, Tom made a solemn promise to himself that for the next two weeks he would be the kind of husband that he knew he could and should be. And so he began.

For two weeks he made no phone calls to his office.
For two weeks he held his tongue when tempted to say something unkind.
For two weeks he was thoughtful.
For two weeks he was loving and caring.

Only one thing went wrong on that vacation. And that happened on the last night.

Tom caught his wife staring at him with a deeply concerned expression on her face. He looked at her and said,
“Honey, what in the world is wrong?’’

Tears rolled down her cheeks as she said,
“Do you know something I don’t know?’’

“What do you mean?’’ he responded.

“Well,’’ she said,
“last week I went to the doctor for a checkup.
You’ve been so kind to me, Tom. Tell me the truth.
Did he tell you something about me?
Did he say I had cancer?
Did he say I’m going to die?
Is that why you’ve been so good to me, Tom?’’
It took a full minute for her remarks to sink in.
Then Tom broke into a laugh.

Throwing his arms around his wife, he said,
“No, honey, you’re not going to die. It’s just that I’m just starting to live.’’

That story dramatizes Jesus’ message to us
on this first Sunday in Advent.

He’s urging us to start living.
He’s urging us to stop putting things off.
He’s urging us to be on our guard
against letting our life slip away without doing what we should be doing.

More specifically,
Jesus is urging us to approach this Advent the way Tom Anderson approached his vacation.

He’s urging us to use it as an opportunity to begin living as we should. He’s urging us to use it as an opportunity to love as we should.

In brief,  today’s gospel is a loving reminder from Jesus
that our life is slowly slipping away.

It’s a loving reminder from Jesus that we should be on our guard against letting it slip away without doing the things God made us to do. It’s a loving reminder from Jesus to begin living and loving.

Let’s close with these words of Mother Teresa:

Each one has a mission to fulfill, a mission of love. At the hour of death when we come face-to-face with God, we are going to be judged on love; not how much we have done, but how much love we have put into the doing.
Series III
1st Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 63:16b–17, 19b; 64:2–7; 1 Corinthians 1:3–9; Mark 13:33–37

Second coming
Be prepared, you know not the hour.

No one knows . . .when that day or hour will come. . . . Be on watch.” Mark 13:32–33

Tip O’Neill of Massachusetts served 34 years in Congress.
Ten of these years were as Speaker of the House, the longest consecutive term of any speaker in history.

After retiring October 1986, he wrote the story of his political life. It was called Man of the House: The Life and Political Memoirs of Speaker Tip O’Neill.

In one part of the book, he talks about the White House leadership breakfasts under President Jimmy Carter.

They began with everyone joining hands and bowing their heads. The president would then call on someone to say grace. Some of Tip’s friends used to irreverently give the prayers a one to ten rating.

One morning after returning to Capitol Hill after a prayer breakfast, Representative Dan Rostenkowski from Chicago was sitting in Tip’s office along with Henry Hubbard, a writer from Newsweek magazine. Dan said to Tip, “Did you ever notice that President Carter never invites Catholics to say grace?”

Tip laughed and said, “Come on, Danny, you know the Protestants are a lot better at impromptu praying than we are.”

Hubbard filed Rostenkowski’s remarks for possible future use in Newsweek’s “Periscope” section.

The very next day a Newsweek editor called the White House to verify the story. When Carter heard about it, he got really upset—so much so that Newsweek agreed to delete the remark.

The following Monday, Tip said to Rostenkowski—without telling him about the Newsweek phone call—“Danny, tomorrow morning you’d better be prepared to say grace at the president’s prayer breakfast.

“Don’t be silly!” Danny said, “we’ve been through all that.” “You’d better be prepared, anyway,” laughed Tip.

Next morning, at the prayer breakfast, after they had all joined hands and bowed their heads, sure enough, the
president said, “Danny, will you say grace for us this morning?”

Tip said, “To my surprise and everyone’s total astonishment, Danny gave the most eloquent prayer any of us had ever heard. It was definitely ‘a ten.’ ”

President Carter himself was so impressed that he made it a special point to compliment Danny on his truly inspiring prayer.

Later, back at Capitol Hill, Tip said to Danny, “That prayer was absolutely beautiful. How in the world did you ever do it?” Danny said, “It wasn’t easy.

“When I got back to my room last night after talking to you, I said to myself, ‘That big Irishman always knows what’s going on around here.
If he says Carter’s going to call on me, I’d better be prepared.’

“So I got up at five o’clock this morning, wrote a prayer, and spent a long time polishing it until even I liked it a lot.”

Ithink Jesus would have liked that story also. If he were living today, he might even have used it to illustrate his point in today’s Gospel.

Danny heeded Tip’s warning, because he figured, correctly,
that Tip knew what he was talking about.

We have something even more certain in today’s Gospel. Jesus definitely knows what he is talking about.

Now the ball’s in our court. Will we heed his warning,
as Danny heeded Tip’s warning?

Will we heed today’s Gospel and do the kind of preparing Danny did? I hope to God that we do, because a lot more is riding on the warning Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel than was riding on the warning O’Neill gave to Rostenkowski the night before the prayer breakfast.

I can’t imagine anyone walking out of church this morning
without making some kind of response to Jesus’ warning in today’s Gospel—even if it is simply to try to be a little kinder
and gentler during Advent
to the people closest to us.

What would be even worse! I can’t imagine someone walking out of church, saying of Jesus’ warning, “I’ll take care of that tomorrow.”

There’s a story which I heard from a reliable source
but have never been able to verify. It’s about a famous author.
She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937 for a novel that went on to sell millions of copies and was translated into 30 different languages.

After it was made into a popular movie, she became even more famous and in demand as a lecturer and a party guest. Then tragedy came. She was hit by a speeding car in Atlanta and died five days later. An obituary that I consulted
read—and I quote:

Fame disrupted her life and writing. She said recently,
“I haven’t had time to sit down at my typewriter since 1936.”

That obituary fits the story I heard. It is that she was an inactive Catholic. A close friend of hers repeatedly urged her to do something about her faith. She always responded the same way: “I’ll take care of that tomorrow.”

Reportedly, while she lay in a coma, she kept saying over and over, “I’ll take care of that tomorrow!”

The stories of Dan Rostenkowski and the famous author both stress the same important point Jesus stresses in today’s parable:

“Be on watch, be alert, for you do not know when . . . the master of the house is coming—it may be in the evening or at midnight
or before dawn or at sunrise. If he comes suddenly, he must not find you asleep. What I say to you, then, I say to all: Watch!” Mark 13:33–37

Let us close with an old prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, you have not revealed to us the day or
 the hour when you will come and knock at our door. We only know that you will come. When you do come, may you find our house swept and clean, ready for your arrival. May you find us standing at the window watching and praying, waiting to receive you.