Advent Reflection for the First Week of Advent: Sunday, December 1, 2019
By Sister Lisa Bergeron, O.S.U
“Stay awake! You do not know on which day your Lord will come…. So, too, you must be prepared.”-Matthew 24: 42, 44a
Advent is about God coming to us. Its sacred time is meant to open us anew to the many ways God’s presence breaks forth into our world, and into our very lives. Yet, Christ’s message in today’s Gospel can seem puzzling: Are we to expect Armageddon any day now, for every day of our lives? The first century Christians certainly did. They expected Christ’s coming at the end of the world to happen at any moment. Our world’s current dire circumstances may even invite such an understanding.
Indeed, there is an apocalyptical edge to Jesus’ words, as well as an urgency. Nevertheless, even if ours are not the end-times, I believe that Jesus’ insistent directive asks us to consider our moment today and open ourselves to his coming into the ordinary circumstances of our daily lives in new ways.
My work as Director of Parish Social Ministry at St. John Nepomucene Parish on Long Island has certainly taught me how God arrives in unexpected – even at times challenging – ways: the chef at a local vocational school with 85 fresh-baked pies at 3:00 pm on the day before Thanksgiving when our Pantry is closed for four days; the parishioners who respond to my request for warm winter coats with more than 400 items that need to be sorted and organized and offered to our participant families in the midst of an arctic blast; the volunteers who suggested – repeatedly – how to renovate our Pantry space so that we can better serve the growing numbers of families seeking nutritional assistance.
Even more, I have been invited to see God’s face in: the single mother with two young children but without sufficient income to feed and clothe and house them; the homeless man who is unwashed and angry and clearly hungry; the father who lost his job and is ashamed that his family is facing eviction who arrives just as I am trying to leave early for some much needed rest; the mentally disabled woman who lives far outside our parish boundaries but comes seeking food and blankets and a kind word, all of which we have in abundance. As we read in the next chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, each person in need is Christ himself, and when we respond with generous grace, we touch the very heart of God.
The promise of God’s reign – so beautifully expressed by Isaiah in today’s first reading – is only realized if we “wake up” to the urgent needs around us that call for our direct response. And there are many needs in our world seeking our intervention. I wonder, what if Jesus comes when we are unprepared to act?
- When there are still 40,000 people dying across the globe each day from hunger?
- When a billion human beings – a fifth of this planet’s population – still do not have decent housing?
- When one fourth of humanity still has no access to safe drinking water?
- When 2.5 billion people – 40 percent of the world – still live in countries where the ANNUAL per capita income is $400 or less?
Facing these challenges and addressing them by our individual commitment to build God’s kingdom, is a way to “stay awake” and “be prepared,” according to Pope Francis:
“Please do not watch life go by from the balcony! Mingle where the challenges are calling you to help carry life and development forward, in the struggle over human dignity, in the fight against poverty, in the battle for values, and in the many trials we encounter each day.” (Pope Francis-Vespers with Atheneum Students, Saturday, 30 November 2013).
None of us, alone, can overcome the world’s problems, but each of us can be alert to the needs in our own communities that call urgently for our action, and respond generously with our time, talent and treasure. In your neighborhood, there are hungry, homeless, underemployed people who are in dire need of compassionate care.
God is breaking forth into each of our daily lives, coming with gifts to share, as well as challenges that require us to respond lovingly toward our sisters and brothers who are struggling. Let us remain open, willing and responsive. Let us put the talents we have in service of the Gospel, so that we, indeed, bring about the reign of God’s merciful, just, and peaceful kingdom. Let us wade into the great river of compassion that draws us closer to each other and more deeply into the heart of the One whose Love knows no bounds. Let us not wait, but begin: Today.
Sister Lisa Bergeron, O.S.U., has been an Ursuline Sister of Tildonk for more than forty years. Currently, she is Director of Parish Social Ministry at St. John Nepomucene Church, Bohemia, NY, where she oversees more than 300 volunteers in 21 different ministries.