This past Sunday marked the beginning of the holy season of Advent and, with it, the opening of a new liturgical year. This deeply significant religious moment coincided with a secular event here in Edmonton that has had the city in a frenzy: the Grey Cup. Two very different experiences of anticipation, and their contrast highlights the importance of the threshold we have just crossed in the liturgical calendar.
To watch and listen to the sights and sounds of the thousands of fans who have come to Edmonton for the Grey Cup festivities, one could be led to believe that there is nothing more important than this particular football match. No doubt many of the fans of the victorious Alouettes are absolutely convinced of this right about now. Yet, of course, there is something far more significant for not only our earthly but also our eternal lives. It is that event of which we are reminded in every Advent season: the return of the Lord in glory. Central to the Christian faith is the belief that Jesus Christ, who came to earth born of the Virgin Mary, and who comes to us now in the gift of the Holy Spirit, particularly in the Church’s sacramental celebrations, will return at the end of time. Of this we are reminded in the Sunday Scripture passages.
Preparation for the Grey Cup event unfolded around set dates and times. Everyone knew, for example, the date and time of the game itself. With that knowledge other preparatory events could be organized and their times and venues were well publicized so that those who wished to participate could do so. Likewise fans could plan their travel to the game because of known and advertised LRT and bus schedules. To be in a state of readiness it is very helpful to know what will happen when.
The event above all others for which we want to be ready is the return of the Lord. The difficulty is that, as the Lord himself tells us, the time of this is unknown (cf. Matthew 24: 37-44). Nevertheless he calls us to be watchful and ready to meet him when he comes. This means, obviously, that there is only one “time” to get ourselves ready, and that time is now.
What does it mean to be ready? In yesterday’s second reading St. Paul speaks of this readiness in terms of our individual moral lives (cf. Romans 13: 11-14). Being alert and ready means living lives in the light and casting off deeds of darkness such as the various instances of immorality that he mentions in the passage. Isaiah teaches in the first reading that our preparedness must also have a communal dimension (cf. Isaiah 2:1-5). He looks forward to the day when obedience to the teaching of God and surrender to his light will give birth to real justice among peoples and nations. From this we know that readiness to meet the Lord when he returns means acting now to address and remove real situations of injustice among God’s children.
With the Grey Cup there is a winner and a loser. Only one receives the cup; only one has a victory parade. When it comes to salvation God wants no losers. He sent his Son to die and rise so that all might live with him forever. Yet this is no reason for complacency on our part. God works within us to transform us and lead us to himself, but he expects us to use the freedom that he has given us to respond in faith and obedience to his teachings and to his promptings. When he comes we will be judged on our response to him and will be called to render an account of how we have used our gift of freedom.
As we look forward to his coming let’s pray that he will keep us both watchful and ready to greet him and enter into his joy.