“‘... for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.’”
“Stay awake!” Jesus shouts this to us in the Gospel on this First Sunday of Advent. These words sum up the whole season. These words sum up what the original Christmas was like for Joseph, Mary, Elizabeth and Zechariah, for King Herod and the three wise kings, and for the innkeepers whose homes were full when a poor expectant couple appeared on a cold night requesting shelter. Everything about the first Christmas was unexpected. That’s why on this First Sunday of Advent we hear the command: “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.”
But these words don’t really seem to make sense for us in modern times who begin Advent today. These words don’t seem to fit with Advent because we do know on which day the Lord will come: December 25th. Everything about this season is expected. So much of the joy of the season comes from the traditions—sacred and secular—that are as familiar as well-worn mittens.
But maybe God can still work through the unexpected in our own day. St. Paul’s words in the Second Reading help us. Even if we don’t know on which day the Lord will come, St. Paul says that we do “know the time: it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.” Of course these people to whom St. Paul was speaking were not physically asleep, but they were spiritually asleep at the wheel. They thought they had it made in life. They thought that they were “saved”.
But everywhere you look in salvation history—in every book of the Bible, in each of the 20+ centuries of the Church’s history, and in the life of every saint—you see this same dynamic. God works most powerfully through the unexpected. It’s not that He can’t or doesn’t work through what’s expected. Rather, God works His greatest works when and in ways that no one expects.
Mary was the holiest of God’s creatures, and is the perfect example of this dynamic at work. We see her holiness very clearly in the Annunciation, the beginning of her nine months of waiting for Jesus to appear at His birth. She didn’t expect to conceive Him. She didn’t expect an angel to appear to her. But in humility, she kept herself open to God’s will. And the whole human race gained a Savior because of her “Yes.”
Humility is the first step of the Christian life, and it’s the virtue that each one of us as Christians needs to start Advent with. Where is there pride in my life? What am I hesitant to confess before God? What area of my life do I want God to stay out of?