Advent – a season of surprises

–By Mary Flick, CSJ

candles_largeWe Americans are a people of plans and expectations. In our culture of control, it’s hard to be surprised. That’s why we need Advent each year. Advent is a season of surprises, vying for our attention amid the Christmas rush. This year, we are given a full four weeks to be surprised. Today, we find our readings full of surprises, and hints for our Christmas preparations.

In our first reading, Isaiah bids us twice to come and be surprised. “Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain,” he invites. We can actually enter the place where God dwells! We can be that close to God. In God’s presence, there is no end to the surprises: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” Instead of war with its instruments of death, there will be farming with its instruments of life. “Come,” Isaiah invites us again, “let us walk in the light of the Lord.” Let us travel these darkest nights of the year in God’s presence.

Light in our darkened world comes slowly, one Advent candle at a time. But there is something we can do. Paul instructs us to get rid of our works of darkness and “put on the armor of light” – put on Jesus Christ. Wear the light we profess.

In the gospel, Jesus images yet another surprise with yet another Advent instruction. Stay awake! God is coming – in a form we might not recognize. As the Son of Man, as one like us. And we must be ready because, like death, God comes among us when we least expect. In the smile of a child. In the kind word of a stranger. In the glance of one of our guests as we leave the hall. Stay awake, Jesus urges us, through the night of our waiting, when doubt is easy and the unknown is a threat more than a promise. Because God is coming among us, dressed as one of us. Stay awake, Jesus tells us a second time. Be prepared for a time you do not expect. Because God is coming, as one of us, to be with us.

Stay awake. Or we’ll miss the greatest surprise of all this Advent season.