With “Brown Thursday” seemingly replacing Thanksgiving as a holiday, one can only surmise that people have given up on giving thanks on the fourth Thursday of every November. Instead, they head straight to Walmart at 6 a.m., waiting in line to offer up their credit cards in thanks for a $99 big-screen TV. Still, I can think of one other holiday tradition that has an even longer record of being overlooked. Churchgoers start celebrating it this Sunday, as we enter the season of Advent.
There are still plenty of Thanksgiving-themed movies and TV shows in our popular culture, but when was the last time you saw a movie specifically themed around Advent? I can think of one—and it took today’s readings to remind me of it. If you’ve never seen “Evan Almighty,” I recommend it. It’s the story of a congressman to whom God appears and convinces him to build an ark. This is after the congressman kicks off his campaign with the prophetic slogan “Change the world.” God obviously expects this politician to live up to his promise.
This Sunday’s first reading is from a prophet with a similar goal. The only difference is that this prophet expects us to go to God instead of waiting for God to appear in the back seat of our car.
“Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may instruct us in his ways,
and we may walk in his paths.”
In the second reading, God uses Paul to give us our instructions—through his letter to the Romans:
“Brothers and sisters:
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.
Let us then throw off the works of darkness
and put on the armor of light.”
There’s that theme of bathing ourselves in God’s light as a testament to the rest of the world. We read something similar in last week’s letter from Paul. But this week his admonition is given extra urgency in the context of today’s gospel reading from Matthew, in which Jesus gives us his Advent campaign slogan:
“Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.”
Christ uses the story of Noah to illustrate the wisdom behind this advice. While Noah was at work on the ark, people were eating, drinking and doing the equivalent of worshiping at Walmart’s door—until the day Noah entered the ark. As Jesus indicates, they did not know how to live until the flood came and taught surviving generations the lesson the people of Noah’s time learned too late.
Advent is about preparation. The problem with the people surrounding Noah was the same one the people surrounding Evan had while he was building his ark: they thought all this activity didn’t involve them. Evan exposes the lie in that notion when a reporter asks him:
“What makes you think God chose you?” Evan offers the message that sums up the spirit of Advent:
“He chose all of us.”
The question we all need to answer is, “Are you ready to accept God’s gift?”