Be watchful! Be alert!
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. And in today’s Gospel, Our Lord gives us the injunction that should guide our preparations this Advent season. What I say to you, I say to all: “Watch!”
Our Lord invokes the scenario of a man who travels abroad—leaving his home and leaves his servants in charge. The man will return. The head of the household will not be gone forever. This we know. What we do not know, however, is when the man will return: You do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning.
Thus, our Lord tells us who wait for the return of the Lord to watch.
This invites further reflection upon the watching that characterizes fruitful Advent preparations.
There are two parts comprised by the dynamics of watching. First, there is the one who watches—the one who looks. Secondly, there is the one we look for. Quite commonly, when we hear today’s gospel, we focus upon the one who watches. Our attention is drawn to considerations of our own preparations, our own reflections, our own activity of looking, of waiting, of watching.
The Gospel itself, however, places the emphasis not on the one who watches, but on the one for whom we await: the object of our watching. Jesus himself.
In Advent, we watch for Jesus. Advent, like all things in the Christian life, is about our Lord. Advent watching, thus, is not about some unspecified looking—it is not analogous to binoculars or to a telescope that roams about looking at anything and everything. Rather, Advent watching is an intense and deliberate watching for the Lord who has promised that he will return. This is the nature of what Advent is about. In other words, Advent is not so much about our activity of watching. Rather, the emphasis of Advent is upon the coming Christ.
Why is this important? The Christian life is shaped from beginning to end by our Lord himself. Christianity is not first and foremost about Christians themselves. The Christian religion is about the Christ—the “Anointed One”—the Savior who assumed a human nature for us men and for our salvation, the infant who is born in a manger. Therefore, the focus and the attention of the Christian is always upon Christ. Christ is the reason for Advent. Christ makes Advent what it is. There is no Advent without Christmas, and there is no Christmas without Christ.
What practically does this mean for the Christian? The Advent preparations that we do within ourselves and around ourselves are always secondary to the primary object of Advent: Jesus who comes.
Therefore, the gaze of the Advent Christian is upon Christ. Christianity is not about a self-help, get-our-life-together plan or lifestyle. Christianity is about a life changed completely by the Lord who comes, the Lord who is born, the Lord who lives, the Lord who loves, the Lord who suffered, died, and rose again for us. This is what Advent is about. This is what our focus should be upon. This is the reality that we contemplate. This is the Lord who saves us.
Advent is about the coming Christ. And what is the appropriate—and, indeed, the saving—focus of the Christian? Jesus himself.
In conclusion, let us focus our attention upon Jesus this Advent season. The happy Christian is the one who is so distracted by Jesus—by the one for whom we watch—that we forget all about ourselves.
What I say to you, I say to all: “Watch!”