By Shirley Van Dee
Each year Christians prepare to celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ with the four-week season of Advent, which means “coming.” So we can say that something or someone is coming. There is inevitability about this, like a sudden death, which we have no control over.
But the Gospel does indicate there are some things we can do to prepare and the most important one is to “watch ourselves.” Unfortunately, many of us often become preoccupied with so many things such as presents and fun that we neglect to watch. But what are we to watch?
Luke writes: “Be vigilant at all times.”
There is an old saying that when the wise person points to the moon, all the fool sees is a finger. In a similar way we live in a world of amazing phenomena. Take, for example, the total eclipse of the sun. We can immerse ourselves in the experience of wonder without ever considering where it came from or what a particular wonder is pointing to.
Then there is the simple wonder of a new day, a new baby, a new bloom. But we might not think to remember these as gifts from God — just expected happenings.
Yes, the question of watching oneself appears to be absent to modern consciousness. How does one watch oneself? It is not merely a question of being a careful and law-abiding person. Luke hints that what is going on in our hearts is linked to the day of “the coming.”
To put this into plain religious speak, we would say that a healthy relationship with God involves our hearts as well as our heads. And if our hearts are unhealthy then we will not be ready for the time when God comes.
One of the key challenges of Advent is that in matters of the heart, God is a factor whether we realize it or not. It seems amazing in our world — where people have so many problems in relationships, the divorce rate is high, neglect, violence and abuse occur frequently — that questions of God and the spiritual dimension of relationships are not addressed more seriously.
People are becoming suicide bombers in the name of God, but God has nothing to do with it. These people are crazy and they don’t know it. They are not watching themselves and, as Luke would put it, “their hearts have become coarsened by violence and the cares of life.”
This can just as easily happen in families, marriages and friendships. What price will we pay if we neglect the spiritual dimension of our hearts?
In preparing for the birthday of Jesus Christ we are invited to look at the state of our hearts and discover if there is a healthy spiritual openness there. What are our relationships like at the moment? Does God play a hearty role in our lives? Reflecting on these questions during Advent gives us the opportunity to heed Luke’s advice to watch ourselves, and to be vigilant at all times.
(Shirley Van Dee is parish life administrator at Ss. Joseph and Cabrini Parish, Richland.)