1 Advent B – 30 November 2014 – Attention, Please!
Though we had our own snow storm this past week it did not compare to the recent one in Western New York. The meteorologists gave advance warnings about the potential danger. But no matter how prepared people were no one had any idea about the damage and loss of lives it would cause.
As we begin a new liturgical year today the gospel offers a suggestion about being prepared. Originally Advent was a time of preparation for those who were to be baptized at Epiphany. Now, we understand Advent differently as a preparation for the end of time when we believe the kingdom of God will be fully in place. Fifty percent of all Americans (42% of Catholics) believe the severity of recent natural disasters are evidence of biblical end times! 
Well, eschatologically speaking, that is a nice thought. But, what do we do in the meantime? In the gospel (and I am using a contemporary illustration here) the author Mark records the story of homeowners going out for dinner telling the babysitters to be attentive so that when they return the sitters will be ready to open the door for them. The problem is the babysitters do not know when the parents actually will return.
As parables go this one is full of symbolism. The homeowner to which Mark refers is Jesus who is about to be crucified, depart from this planet and return in full glory. Some early Christians thought he was coming back right away. We are still waiting. The babysitters? In this story they are the disciples of Jesus who are entrusted with continuing his mission until the kingdom comes. Today we see ourselves in this story. We are ones who keep people’s hopes alive … including our own.
In the passage from Isaiah, after the exile the Israelites were hoping for better days but nothing was happening. In a panic they realized their leaders were not doing a good job. So, they cried out “God, show us the radiance of your face!” The prophets urged them to help one another while they waited for a redeemer, a messiah, to come.
Today, some economists say the recession in our country may be over — like that Hebrew exile was over. Still there are millions of people who cannot find jobs while income inequity continues to grow. In a more recent example, after the grand jury decision in St. Louis County, Missouri, people of all colors across the nation are taking to the streets and gathering in their houses of worship crying where is the face of God in a country that continues to be so racially divided. Where is hope?
The parable in the gospel does not focus on when our earthly storms will end or when the end of the world will occur or what the kingdom of God will look like. We do not know. Let our imaginations continue to work. Rather, the story does focus on how ready are we to help one another in the meantime. Here is where the second reading might be helpful to us.
Paul is praising the Corinthians for their many gifts and resources. He admonishes them however not to be consumed by self satisfaction or to use their gifts for self gain only. He reminds them that God is still at work and needs their cooperation as much as they need God’s help. So, too, with us. We gather here in church to thank and bless God because we believe that God is working through us no matter what the circumstances.
How to be attentive to all of the challenges that surround us is a big and urgent task. Paying attention, being vigilant, preparing for the fulfillment of the kingdom requires undivided attention. Everything we Christians do depends on that state of readiness to act. We cannot sit around doing nothing waiting for someone else to stop the storms.
Staying focused on the issues that really matter is hard to do when so many distractions compete for our attention. Some authors suggest we center on our interior spirits. We can do that by taking time for physical and/or spiritual exercise — anything that will calm us down, slow our heart beat, lower our blood pressure and raise our sights on the kingdom of God. Such exercise can help us sharpen our spiritual lives and make us feel good. It can prepare us for being more attentive to what goes on around us.
Storms will come and storms will go. Sometimes the damage lingers for a long time like after tropical storm Sandy or the ever present challenges of racism. In the meantime we pray for good weather and for understanding one another in the face of our differences. How we survive in the midst of storms requires courage, compassion and co-dependence. Those virtues have spiritual roots dwelling deep inside us fostering faith, kindling hope, driving works of justice.
1 Source: PRRI/AAR, Religion, Values and Climate Change Survey, November 2014