FROM A READING FOR NOV. 27, FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us His ways and that we may walk in His paths...' -- Isaiah 2:3

Biblical followers of God live in the middle of the tension between what's actually happening in their lives right now and what they expect to happen in the future.

Over the centuries, some religious leaders have been accused of focusing their people's eyes so intently on the future that they conveniently ignored their painful daily lives, a here and now they should and could have changed. They didn't lift a finger, for instance, to help eradicate slavery. They simply taught that there'd be no slaves in heaven.

The prophet First Isaiah could never be blamed for employing that maneuver to avoid responsibility for the world's problems. Though, in Sunday's first reading (Isaiah 2:1-5), he speaks about an ideal future, he was active during a period in biblical history in which no one believed in an afterlife as we do today. Isaiah's ideal future was restricted to this life.

That's why the prophet is so concrete when he speaks about that longed-for future. "They shall beat their swords into plowshares," he proclaims, "and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another." There's no eternal bliss waiting for anyone in heaven. We can only hope for peace and tranquility right here and now.

Finding peace
Yet, there's a condition for acquiring this peace and tranquility. We must be open to hearing God instruct us and walk in His ways. The problem is, some people hear God's Word and carry it out, while others go through life without even noticing the path God expects them to travel.

Our sacred authors presume this awareness -- or lack of it -- affects both our here and now and our future. But the question remains: Why do some hear, while others don't?

It's clear from Sunday's Gospel (Matthew 24:37-44) that the early Christian community reflected on that same question. Though Matthew projects this query into Jesus' Second Coming, many Scripture scholars believe this passage originally revolved around a situation many Christians encountered in their daily lives.

How come two people from the same background, even the same family, have different reactions to Jesus' message? Two men will be in the field, two women grinding at the same mill; one will be taken by Jesus, the other won't. The only way to explain it is that one was awake to what was happening around him or her; the other wasn't.

Just as someone pre-warned that a robber was going to hit their house tonight "would stay awake and not let his house be broken into," we've been pre-warned that the Son of Man is coming, not only in His Parousia, but also in our daily lives.

Look for Him
Unless we're actually looking for someone or something, we won't recognize them when they actually arrive. Staying awake is key to carrying on the risen Jesus' ministry.

That appears to be one reason Paul zeroes in on the same theme in Sunday's Romans (13:11-14) passage. "It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep," he writes, "for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed."

Biblical salvation isn't just something that will start after our physical deaths; it also begins right now, whenever we die to ourselves, "put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provisions for the desires of the flesh." As other Christs, we're expected to challenge the same unjust situations Jesus challenged. Those who believe everything in this world is hunky-dory have forgotten to set their alarm clocks.