So, Advent is with us again. Not nearly enough days — even with the longest possible calendaring of the season this year — to do all that I hope and expect for Advent. What great mercy that none of this is about me (or you), in the small personal sense. Please consider this permission to let yourself off the hook with to-do lists and to pray your way through Advent.
Between Isaiah’s startling prophecy (“they shall beat their swords into plowshares”), Paul’s exhortation to the community in Rome (“it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep”), and Jesus’ challenging parable via Matthew (“So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come”), we have rich nourishment for our Advent preparation. But all three excerpts say that we do not have the luxury of time. The call is urgent. God’s love for us strains against the bounds of space and time to enter into human history. As if God is saying: “Do I have your attention now?”
In my part of the world, after an unseasonably long and warm fall, winter arrived three weeks ago with snow and relentless cold. The homeless encampments in our area have become a focus for desperate solutions to the overlapping crises of housing, mental health and substance use. The campers are a visible sign of our many failures to care for our sisters and brothers. Our resources are small in the face of their human needs. How can we celebrate God-with-us when so many neighbors struggle in such difficult circumstances?
By virtue of the work we do, we know better than most the harsh realities of those we serve. We are awake to the challenges and sufferings of God’s people. Let me humbly offer that our Advent work is to bring this news to our communities. It is our vocation to share these troubling signs of the times with our parishes and supporters, to unsettle them, to wake them from their sleep and call them to preparation. The call is urgent. It is the hour to awake from our sleep and to share that call with God’s people.
As you walk through these Advent weeks, do so in the sure knowledge of God’s mercy for our hesitant and stumbling steps. Come, Lord Jesus.
Scott Cooper is Vice President of Mission for Catholic Charities Eastern Washington, where he sings in the choir at Sacred Heart Parish.