Unless

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

…and we know the rest of the story. The lawyer quotes the Law of God correctly, love God and neighbor. Unfortunately, he could not connect that Law to his reality. As Jesus often does when people don’t get it, He attempts to teach the lawyer by illustration. He tells the story of a man in need of help. He increases the tension, the man is laying there in pain, unable to help himself, as a priest and Levite pass by ignoring him.  We can almost hear the man’s cries for help as he is ignored. Finally, someone comes along and stops to help.

The man who stopped to help fulfills the Law of God in the reality of his life. He doesn’t do it because he is an expert in the Law of God, he probably did not know any of its technicalities especially since he was not Jewish. He didn’t do it because it was convenient. It probably wasn’t, he was on his way to do business and this would kill his schedule. He did it because unless…

The one who stopped was answering God’s law written in his heart. As Jeremiah records: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts.

So the Law on his heart says to him: Unless I stop this man will suffer. Unless I stop this man may die. Unless I stop, I will add to the harm committed. Unless I stop, the world will be a worse place, for then no one will stop for me. Unless I stop, I will be less in my own conscience and eyes. Unless I stop, the Law written in my heart will convict me.

On this special Sunday, the Holy Church calls us to reflect upon our unless. We have all faced those moments, drive by, go on, or stop.  We have all faced our own consciences and any conviction due us when we fail to act in love.

The lawyer wanted a nice, neat, organized understanding of God’s Law and what he had to do. We like that too. No messes in his or our understanding, but then there’s this beaten man on the side of the road. The Law says to us, Unless. How do I act?

We must answer yes to love and love’s action when confronted with our unlesses. We cannot ignore the unless, nor minimize it, nor put what we want or need first. Our schedule or convenience really does not matter to God if it is put before love’s action.

St. John reminds us that anyone calling themselves Christian must respond to every unless with love.  If we do not, we will have no confidence for the day of judgment. Therefore, let us face every unless with love.

In
advance.

You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand.

God is great at wake-up calls. As personally expert at the snooze button, thanks be that He is eternally diligent with those wake-up calls.

The first to hear the wake-up call were the prophets. Jesus told us that “many prophets and righteous people longed to see [his arrival].” The prophets hearing God’s call took action. The proclaimed what was to come. They set forth, as Isaiah does today, a message of hope, peace, and joy. They lived in urgent and active expectation of what was to come.

We often get impatient in expectation of great things and can, at the same time, snooze. Maybe we snooze as an excuse. If I close my eyes, time may pass more quickly. But that isn’t what God wants of us. It is why He issues constant wake-up calls. He wants us awake and active, living His way and truth.

The anticipation and longing of the prophets, who for thousands of years knew by the Spirit that the Messiah would come, teach us how to prepare our hearts in this season of Advent. 

The prophets kept reminding Israel of their call to prepare and to live faithfully in expectation of the Messiah. Unfortunately, they did not listen and kept falling back. That failure to heed did not play out well.

The experiences of the prophets, their active anticipation, reminds us that Advent can be a season of reflection and repentance as we remember why Jesus came to earth. They teach us to faithfully endure as we await Jesus’s Second Coming. As we wait, let’s remember our waiting is necessary preparation in becoming the people He is forming and transforming us to be – living members of the Kingdom. Use the time wisely.

Paul calls us to active living, realizing what has already happened and what is to come. He calls us to throw off all that holds us back, to be awake and ready.

God is diligent at wake-up calls. He gives us this opportunity of Advent in advance so that we may be prepared. He gave us the first coming of His Son which we will commemorate in a few short weeks, and through that moment He gives us His life and word as model so that awake and active we live as He did and expectant for His return.