Advent is a time for soul stirring! Our readings for this first Sunday of the new liturgical year are rousing and exciting with a hint of foreboding.

Isaiah, the prophet of Advent begins with the rousing: “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.” The excitement is palpable. Come! Let us begin this journey to the Lord’s mountain — to the Lord’s house. Everyone is included; everyone is invited to this adventure. This is a celebration of God among us! God’s presence is with us and helps us to create a peaceful community. There is this amazing vision of a peaceful world. Isaiah speaks of turning the tools of war into farming tools. There is a new imagination to see a world that has turned away from war and works for peace. But this peace is not only the absence of violence; it is shalom. In Hebrew, shalom is total harmony, completeness and well-being. It is the opportunity for each person to reach their full stature as a member of the community. This peace creates a path that is filled with light!

Our psalm takes up the theme of the journey to peace and harmony in the company of the whole community, “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord!” Psalm 122 is a psalm of ascent, one prayed by pilgrims as they made their way to Jerusalem, to the Lord’s temple. They were filled with joy and awe at coming to God’s house! God’s presence is alive among them and will be realized when they enter Jerusalem and worship in the temple.

These readings invite us to walk this Advent path with great enthusiasm, with awareness of God — with — us and with the community which is eager to share God’s peace and love with the world.

But the Gospel seems to shift this energy from rejoicing to foreboding. There seems to be the feeling that trouble is near at hand and we must be vigilant. Jesus sounds a wakeup call and gives three examples of the importance of paying attention. We are cautioned not to be like the clueless people of Noah’s time who only paid attention to the day-to-day events and revelries of life. They failed to see the reality of their bad choices and the flood swept them away. The second example features men and women doing their daily work. There’s no reason why one is taken and one is given another chance. But there is an urgency to pay attention now, because we never know how many opportunities we will have. The same is true for the master of the house, who needs to be prepared at all times in order to ward off the thief.

Jesus certainly gets our attention with these examples! But the message is very clear — stay awake: “So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” Paul echoes this advice, “You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.” God is in the very stuff of our daily life — but can we perceive Jesus’ presence?
Advent is a time for soul stirring and wakefulness. We have begun the journey to Christmas that is a metaphor for our life journey. We need to pay attention to the many ways that our God communicates with us. God’s presence completely envelops us. If our eyes and hearts are open then we constantly experience God — with — us. Our families, our co-workers, our friends and fellow parishioners, the suffering people of our world, the earth in her delights and anguish, all these realities and so many more are God’s inbreaking into the present moment.

Advent is a very challenging time as well. We want to heed the call to be awake in this moment. We want to relish the gift of presence in the present. But the frenetic rush to Christmas has already begun. We want to enjoy all the wonders of the season, all the traditions, all the gatherings. How do we honor Jesus’ command to stay awake and be aware of his coming? First, we need to pause and consider what helps us and our loved ones to celebrate the great gift of the Incarnation. What energizes us? What helps us to be peaceful in the midst of all the hub-bub? Or what is the thief, who like the Christmas Grinch steals the true spirit of the season?

The choice between taking the peaceful path into Advent or the mad dash to Christmas morning begins Sunday. Take time with yourself and your family to consider the season and make choices that truly reflect Jesus’ presence among us. Happy Advent!