On Friday, October 28, our Saint Louis Cardinals walked of the field at Busch Stadium with the World Series trophy, an early Christmas gift for the citizens of Cardinal nation. It really was like Christmas. There were World Series parties, total strangers celebrated together, there was even a parade. But the championship wasn’t won on October 28. The Cardinals started winning the World Series way back in February when the players gathered in Florida for spring training.
They spent six weeks in Florida, then they played 162 regular season games, and three playoff series before they were able to claim the prize. If they had just shown up on October 28 and said, “OK, we’re here. Where’s our trophy?”, they’d have been laughed off the field. Everything that’s good, everything that’s worth having, takes preparation. And sometimes, it’s not easy.
Look at the Cardinal’s season. Almost everyone had written them off by the end of August. It would take a miracle for them to even make the playoffs. But they did, on the last day of the regular season. Then they had to play the Phillies, the best team in the National League. They didn’t have a chance. But they won anyway. Then they had to take on the mighty Milwaukee Brewers, the best team in their division. Again, they didn’t have a chance, but again they won. They made it to the World Series.
The Texas Rangers were heavily favored, and the Cardinals fell behind in the Series. It took them seven games, but they pulled it out. They were world champions! Nine months after they had first gotten together in the spring, all the preparation paid off.
In four weeks we’ll celebrate Christmas, the birth of the baby Jesus. Jumping right into Christmas without spending time getting ready makes no more sense than expecting to win the World Series with no preparation. We call this season of preparation “Advent”. Today marks the beginning of Advent and it’s the beginning of the Church year. You might think that the year should begin with Christmas. After all, it IS the beginning of our faith. Without the birth of a Savior, there couldn’t be any salvation. But the Church, in her wisdom, begins the year with a four week period of preparation.
In today’s Gospel Jesus warns us to beware that our hearts don’t become drowsy. He tells us we should be vigilant. Next Sunday we’ll read about the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry from Mark’s Gospel. John says, “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of His sandals.”
The following week, December 11, Gaudete Sunday, we’ll read about John the Baptist from John’s Gospel. He’ll tell us that John wasn’t the light but that he came to testify to the light.
Finally, on the fourth Sunday Luke will tell us the story of the Angel’s appearance to the Virgin Mary. “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” He tells her that she will bear a child. As we all know, Mary said “yes” and the final nine months of preparation began.
That’s a lot to squeeze into just four Sundays, but it’s up to you and me to fill in the blanks. We know the story. We’ve heard it our whole lives. But like anything familiar, there’s always a danger that we’ll take it for granted. But this isn’t just a story, it’s OUR story. Even if we think we know it like the backs of our hands, there’s always more to discover; more to learn.
Unfortunately, especially at this time of year, we’re being pulled in every direction. The media tell us that we can’t be happy and fulfilled unless we buy the latest electronic gadget. After all, isn’t Christmas the shop-‘til-you-drop season? Buy, buy, buy. Don’t worry about how to pay for it. “No payments until 2013. Easy credit. Just use your plastic. It’s easy.”
Meanwhile there’s work to be done. Year-end deadlines are coming! And don’t forget the parties. There are office parties, and neighborhood parties, there’s even a church party. You have to go. You can’t hurt anyone’s feelings.
Face it, the next four weeks are busy, busy, busy. And here’s the Church telling you to take time and reflect on the coming of the Savior. Where am I going to get the time?
The good news is that you do have time. As busy as we all are, we just need to set some priorities. There’s nothing more important than our eternal salvation. There are only so many hours in the day, but eternity is forever. It’s definitely worth a few minutes each day to get ready, and we’re here to help. In the vestibule of church there are an assortment of Advent books. There are three different titles and three different authors. Each one is a little different, but each one is a selection of daily prayers to help you through the Advent season. Take one or more of them with you when you leave today and make a promise to yourself that you’ll spend a few minutes each day getting ready for the Lord’s coming.
It’s a small commitment that will make a big difference in your life. When December 25 rolls around you might just say “Gee, I’m glad I took the time to get ready.