A gracious welcome to all present and past members of the Worcester Fire Department and any other departments here with us today, along with the family members of firefighters who are deceased. We feel very blessed that you share your presence and time with us here in our holy space.
The readings we just heard proclaimed on the First Sunday of Advent as we prepare for the coming of the Lord are most appropriate and well-timed for a Mass with an emphasis on recognizing our local fire department members. The readings address the idea of preparation. From a spiritual perspective.
In our Lord’s message to his disciples, his concern is for them to be prepared for his return. As we do many things over the next few weeks to prepare for the celebration of the birth of our Savior, whether it’s shopping or sending Christmas Cards, or making sure we say “Merry Christmas” instead of the boring “Happy Holidays,” the words of Jesus in the Gospel invite us, not into his stable in Bethlehem, but rather being prepared for his return at the end.
Firefighters are always to be prepared on the job. If one were to walk into a fire station in Worcester or any other city or town, and you took notice of the area where the fire trucks are parked inside the station, we would see, when looking on the ground on the side of the trucks, the doors already open, not closed; the boots of each respective firefighter on the ground outside the door that they will enter upon receiving a call; during the summer months and warmer weather, the door to the station wide open; along with a group of men and women who are ready at the sound of the bell to proceed in quick fashion to their vehicle.
Preparation. Why all this preparation beforehand? Because seconds matter. And when seconds matter, where the incoming call can be a matter of saving life or losing it, then the time is short. And this is precisely Jesus’ point. The time is short. Our time is short. (Sorry for the bad news).
This is where our Lord is landing us on the First Sunday of Advent. Time is short, and seconds and minutes matter in relation to our personal salvation.
But notice that Jesus calls our attention to his Second Coming before his first arrival in Bethlehem. He calls our attention to the end before we move on to celebrate the beginning of his human life in a modest stable. Our vision is to be “on the sky,” if you will, before the manger is filled with smelly animals and with holy people, one of them who happens to be divine.
As a firefighter is prepared both mentally and physically to respond to a call when the bell tolls, so is the Christian to be prepared – physically and spiritually, in body and in spirit – for when God rings our bell and says, “Hello there my friend, it’s time to come home.”
Jesus provides in the Gospel a stark image of one person being taken and another person being left behind. What our Lord is saying is that some people will be caught sleeping at the moment salvation’s door opens up. This may have happened somewhere in a fire station before, as well as in every other walk of life. Maybe where a firefighter was sleeping and didn’t get to the truck in time before it left the station for a call. Where slumbering kept him from being prepared and ready for action. This can happen. (Just don’t let the Chief know about it!)
As firefighters, you can and do have quiet days (except if you’re the Chief). You can have long days where it seems like the entire city of Worcester is quiet, sleeping, not lighting matches in the wrong places or leaving food on the stove; where every driver in the city drives safely, courteously, and avoids all accidents for a whole day; days where gas lines and live wires do what they are supposed to do; where all is quiet on the northern, southern, eastern, and western fronts. Where you’re almost begging for a call to come in to break up the monotony of a slow day. But you still have to be ready, even when sleeping.
Preparation is a state of mind. Preparation is perpetually being in a state of readiness. Ready for the unexpected.
What Jesus tells us to be prepared for is our own death. Our transformation into his presence. Such preparation consists of what St. Paul writes in today’s 2nd reading; “Throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Be rid of what causes us to slumber and slide away from our Lord. And put on the words and deeds that prepare us for the life to come.
Christian preparation is the action of loving neighbor. Because when we see Christ in the other, we will see Christ at his return. When we offer lives of service and evangelizing in the present we will be given a just reward at the end. Jesus offers us the perfect preparation for his coming to us in his command to love. The reason one in the field is taken and the other one is left behind, trying to figure out why they were passed over, is the one who was taken was a person of love. The one left behind, they were living for themselves and concerned about their lives only. Such an approach to living blinds us to God’s presence and return.
So, before we arrive at the celebration of an occupied stable, we first understand the spiritual importance of being persons of love. For when Love enters the world in the form of a Divine Person, in the form of a holy child, it is our own actions of love that assist his growth. Jesus grows taller in our lives of service.
As firefighters are prepared, ready to offer assistance at all times, we are to mimic their readiness, and be prepared for our appearance before the Almighty.