Mark 13:33-37
Advent Preparations
by Rev. Robert Wagner

Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.

Jesus said to his disciples: "Be watchful!  Be alert!  You do not know when the time will come.  It is like a man traveling abroad.  He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.  Watch, therefore; 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.  May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.  'What I say to you, I say to all: 'Watch!'"

This Sunday marks the beginning of the Advent season, which is the time of preparation before we celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Most of us fill this time of year with activities that include sending Christmas cards, buying presents for friends and families, and decorating our homes for Christmas . These activities certainly bring us joy and nostalgia as they help us get ready for Christmas in a necessary yet material way, but in and of themselves, they fall short of the preparations that lead to true and lasting joy and peace this season.

During Advent, true preparation flows from our faith and charity. It requires us to prune back and clear away the distractions and sins that keep the light of Jesus Christ from fully entering into our lives. This is the preparation that allows divine grace to transform us. In this way we become more like the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose docility to the Holy Spirit is the source of our salvation.

For some of us, this Advent preparation will require confronting the destructive habits and worldly “idols” that exist in our lives. With divine help, we can recognize these areas of blindness and sin, turn from them and seek God's forgiveness through the sacrament of reconciliation. It is through God's mercy that we are set free from what binds us, and in that freedom we are able to run to Jesus as He draws near this Christmas.

For others, our Advent preparation calls us to develop our practice of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We associate these disciplines with the season of Lent, but to stop their practice outside of Lent is imprudent. The Lord gives us these precious instruments for our continued conversion. May we always incorporate prayer, fasting and almsgiving into our daily life, especially during the preparatory time of Advent.

Still others may use this season before Christmas to focus on divine truth to clear away the false beliefs that misdirect our thoughts and actions. We can do this through meditation on Scripture, by reading the lives of the saints and great spiritual works, and by delving deeply into the teachings of our holy church. Steeped in God's truth, we allow the Lord to order our minds and hearts and illumine the path that leads us to God.

No matter how close we are to Our Lord, there is always room for transformation, always room to be more like Jesus Christ. Our Savior loves us and desires that the Holy Spirit renew our lives and lead us to fulfillment. The more we grasp this, the more we look forward to His drawing nearer to us.

Yet the Advent preparations described above require discipline, honesty and perseverance. Such efforts must be consistent, and they require our attention and energy. They often are often not pursued for that reason. Another reason they are not attempted is because we often link these spiritual works and our conversion with our eternal rewards. If we think of them in terms of the coming of the Lord, we lose sight of them in the day-to-day because our death seems so distant. Therefore we focus on the events on the worldly tasks that call for our attention and put aside the paramount task of preparing to meet Our Lord.

The season of Advent, however, wakes us from our slumber and turns us toward the coming of the Lord — at Bethlehem, at the time of our death and at His second coming . Jesus calls us to be prepared at all times, for it is only when our hearts are open to His transforming love that we can receive all the gifts He has for us, in this life and the next. “Be watchful,” He warns us in the Gospel. “Be alert,” He shouts to us. “You do not know when the Lord of the house is coming.”

Let us heed the Lord's warning with urgency this Advent season, so we may prepare worthily for His arrival. Through our efforts and His abundant grace, we will draw closer to Him as He draws nearer to us this Christmas and when we one day meet Him face-to-face. Jesus longs for our love, and He desires to share His glory with each of us. When He comes, may He find that we have prepared our hearts for Him with zeal and with great care.

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