See the Watch Swing Back and Forth



The Readings for Sunday 1 Advent (Year B):

Videte vigilate et orate nescitis enim quando tempus sit
Take ye heed, watch and pray. For ye know not when the time is.
The first Sunday of Advent is the first Sunday of the Church year. It is purely #churchgeek humor to say “Happy New Year” today. In those places where the Church Calendar held sway over the secular world, it is March 25th that is the new year. The 1st Sunday of Advent is a good place to begin  liturgical books, yes: but it was not always so. Some places had multiple books in use, some places had more than four Sundays in Advent. However, as the Roman Rite became the standard through the western world, and – especially after the Reformation – as there was more standardization around liturgical publications, this was the first Sunday listed in the book.
Advent is intended to liturgically replicate the waiting of the people of Israel for the promised Messiah. Since we know Messiah has come, it’s sort of hard to replicate the waiting. Liturgical piety has, therefore, tended to focus a lot of this season on the Final Advent, the coming of Christ as Judge. So we have today’s readings, where Isaiah has the people begging for God to come to them, or St Paul thankful that God will keep the Corinthians firm in their faith “until the end”. Jesus calls out to us, WATCH!
Isaiah has the Israelites mourning, Quare errare nos fecisti Domine de viis tuis indurasti cor nostrum ne timeremus te? Why hast thou made us to err, O Lord, from thy ways: why hast thou hardened our heart, that we should not fear thee? But that’s not the way to negotiate with God, right? To blame him for leading us astray. God calls us forward to himself. He does so in gentleness and peace – if we want to wander around on our own, he lets us. We are stranded not because he misled us in the wilderness, but because we rejected clear instructions and guidance. Jesus calls out to us, WATCH.

Jesus knows that the Holy Trinity neither leads us into sin, nor gives us permission to sin. God lets us go, though: he never holds us back, although he calls to us constantly. If we want to go another way, it’s easy enough. This is why the command is “Watch”! The Greek is ἀγρυπνέω agrypneo, coming from the words for “not sleeping”. The Greek word for sleep, hypno, is where I want to go today: because our modern spin on “hypno” is much closer to what Jesus is talking about than simply sleep.

Hypnosis: being so distracted by something that you don’t notice anything else. We spend our days hypnotized by our computers, our phones, our sex lives, our politics, our food pictures: anything but thinking about what is really important. This is sleep. This is death. The thing is, watching a screen for a couple of moments can mean hours in the real world! It can be as simple as waiting for a bus… but your eyes are glued to the screen and your finger is numb from the cold. And you’re trapped.

It’s easy for us to see the electronic hypnosis that most of us use (some of us are employed to create it), but this is only a second-degree of hypnosis. The world, itself, is a distraction, a huge sleep machine that draws us away from God, away from each other and, in the end, away from our very selves. I’m not just avoiding you, God, the world, and everything. I’m avoiding me. We know this to be true because we have a God-shaped hole in our hearts. The entirety of Creation tends Godward – except for us. We tend to trend away and we do so while convinced that we are driving towards something.

It’s easy to explain this graphically. If the universe is nearly an infinity (or close enough to infinity to make no difference) it’s mathematically impossible for two specks to drive towards each other and touch. Only by moving Godward, towards a new infinity, can any of us come closer to each other. Anything that keeps us away from that other infinity destroys our chances at making it here, now.

And then we die.

As I was writing that a retweet came across my feed: my friend retweeting the AP that a ICBM had been launched by North Korea. That’ll snap your attention to, let me tell ya!

God doesn’t harden our hearts to make a point. But he won’t stop us from running away to harden them ourselves. And our Judgment Day lament of “God why did this happen?” will not go over well.

What have you done to at least soften your heart a little? How much time do you have left?

When was the last time you said I love you and meant it, sacrificially willing the Good of the other? When was the last time you went to confession and really humbled yourself before the Lord? When was the last time you shrugged your shoulders on a Holy Day of Obligation and said, “That doesn’t really matter?” When was the last time you tossed out the Church’s 2,000 years of teaching on Abortion or Race or Welcoming the Stranger and said, “I can vote any way I want”?

When I count to three and snap my fingers, you will wake up.

Or die.


Author: Huw Raphael

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He is almost 59. He feeds the homeless as a parochial almoner and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He is learning modern Israeli Hebrew and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.

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