“One will be taken, the other will be left. Therefore, stay awake!”
As we begin a new Church Year and a new Season of Advent, we move forward I pray with the hope that we are the one who will be taken. That doesn’t sound good on the surface. It begs the question, does “being taken” mean that during this season of preparation for the Lord’s birth that we should expect over the next few weeks we’re going to die from this world and come to see Jesus? Is this the sort of “being taken” that Jesus refers to in this gathering with his disciples? The answer is no.
If we die over the next few weeks, it will not happen because one was taken, and another was left. Interestingly, that’s how one firefighter presently feels; that one was taken a couple weeks ago, and he, the other one, was left. He now lives with that for the remainder of his life. Many soldiers have carried within them the same thought; why were they not taken while the soldier next to them, out in the field or grinding at the mill, was taken. That’s been a hard reality that many have had to live with, be it during war or some other tragic circumstance.
The way Jesus teaches about being taken on this 1st Sunday of Advent is presented in a way that we hope to be taken. His teaching does not refer to one person dying while another close by lives. He refers to his Second Coming, and the one who is taken is in fact the blessed one, the saved one. The one who now enjoys the banquet of eternal life in company with the Saints. While the one left behind is the one condemned. The one wailing and grinding their teeth because the Just Judge made his just judgment and determined they were not worthy of heaven for whatever the sinful reasons would be.
On this 1st Sunday of Advent, the Lord speaks eternal language. The being taken or left behind refers to the Resurrection of the righteous, or the condemned. It’s hard for us to believe in today’s overall religious thinking, that God would condemn anyone he presently loves unconditionally. But love is always connected to free will. And love is a 2-way street, as we know in any relationship. It’s no different with God and us. I believe St. John Newman said it best: “If you don’t like heaven now, you won’t like it later.”
And, the staying awake words of Jesus refer to, in this season of grace, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Confession is like a large bucket of cold water poured on your head on a steaming hot day. This Sacrament wakes us up spiritually. And keeps us awake! It makes us alive again. It gives us spiritual energy. If we wish to roll the dice on staying awake or falling asleep, receiving the Sacrament or bypassing it, then our free will allows us the dice roll. Contrarily, reception of the Sacrament of Confession is an internal fire that keeps us awake even when we’re sleeping, when the evil one tries to work on us. The Sacrament keeps us in right relationship with God.
Advent is a season of beating swords into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks. It’s a season of emphasizing peace, preparing for the Prince of Peace. Being peace; sharing peace; wanting peace; loving peace. It’s a season of rejecting violence in all its forms and disparaging looks. Violence has an ugly face. Peace has a beautiful face.
Swords into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks are images of turning our internal wars and weapons into works of mercy. It’s an image of change and constant conversion. And that’s where Confession enters and invites us in.
Swords into plowshares; prepare the fertile ground of our souls for the good crop of Jesus Christ. That’s what it means. Our internal ground is already fertile because of God’s grace and presence of the Spirit. Our Baptism made that possible.
Spears into pruning hooks; bend the end of that weapon. Make it a hook that picks fruit off the tree of Christ. The fruits of love, mercy, and forgiveness. The fruits of compassion, visitation, and prayer. His tree is loaded with good fruit. It’s better to use God’s pruning hook that to use the Devil’s pitchfork.
And why stay awake? Why avoid sitting back, motionless, and allowing this quick, holy season to pass without change or conversion? Because, “the night is advanced, the day is at hand.” That certainly is true for many of us. The night of our lives is advanced. Be rid of any thought we are going to live forever. We are going to live forever. Up or down. But it won’t be on this side of the grave.
So please don’t sit back and allow the Season of Advent to pass without doing something to deepen our love for God and neighbor, preparing for the birth of Jesus. We have a Christmas Giving Tree; we have a collection for the Retired Religious; we have an Advent Concert; we have online shopping and those who still enjoy the hustle and bustle of walking through stores.
But the truest meaning of the Season of Advent is to stay awake. The way to stay awake in our faith is the Sacrament where God’s forgiveness and mercy is total and certain. It ensures we will be taken, and not left behind at the grinding mill.