1st Sunday of Advent: The Most Extraordinary of Surprises

1st Sunday of Advent, Year A

Matthew 24: 37-44

The Most Extraordinary of Surprises

My mother hates surprises, and while I don’t hate them, I am a little ambivalent about them. I always read the end of a book when I’m about a quarter of the way through. Once I know what’s going to happen, I can relax and really take in all the details in the rest of the text. Americans in general are ambivalent about surprises, which means we are obsessed with the future. The stock market tracks trends to show us how our money will grow in the future. Weather apps give us information that allows us to plan future events. We even get mad at meteorologists when their predictions aren’t accurate and mess up our plans. We encourage our children to spend years of their lives studying material for careers we hope will be relevant in the future.

Faith is all about surprise which runs contrary to our wiring. Neither Mary nor Joseph were planning her pregnancy. The Jews weren’t planning on a Messiah who was born in a stable, who came to bring salvation to ALL people, or who died a criminal on a cross. I wasn’t planning on becoming Catholic thirteen years ago, and I certainly never planned to work for the church. Our God is most definitely the God of surprises.

At first I balked at this as the gospel for the first Sunday of Advent. I love Advent—the preparation, the waiting, the emphasis on quiet togetherness, the knowledge that a new baby is coming. But this reading seemed to be about fear and judgement, not Advent-ish at all.

But actually, this reading is about being aware of the right now. Being aware of what we don’t know. We don’t know when the end will come, not even Jesus, “only the Father knows” (v. 36). If God didn’t divulge that information to Jesus, He’s not going to divulge it to anyone. Only “false prophets” (Matthew 24: 4) say otherwise. So, what can we do about the future?

God encourages us to be prepared, to “keep watch” (v. 42). Not to be obsessed. But to be prepared. In a monetary sense, yes, of course. But in a much broader and deeper sense as well.

“Keep watch” over the present moment. Don’t let it slip by unnoticed. Be grateful for it, and use it wisely.

We are to use the time we have (and none of us know how long that will be) to grow the gifts we’ve been given and make the world a better place. God has set a different path for everyone, and if we let Him, God will give us the opportunities and skills to improve our corner of the world. Moreover, it is the only thing that, in the end, will satisfy our own desires.

We’re not to get tripped up in a fear of the future but to “keep watch” for God’s movements in our lives, to appreciate the now without fear for the future. He wants us to be open to Him, and that means being open to the most extraordinary of surprises. Mary was. Are we?

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