"How do you want to spend your life? We all know you can ruin it. But what is more important to recognize is that you can sleep through it." The words of Jesuit scholar Dean Brackley powerfully prepare us for these pivotal eight weeks of the Christian liturgical year. The new year, as always, begins with Advent and brings a new guide, Matthew.
But first Luke leaves us with a beautiful image of the heir to the royal house of David, whose ministry and fate is bound with that of the excluded: "For the Son of Man has come to seek and save what was lost" (Luke 19:10). Faithful to his gospel's special focus on the poor, Luke's final image of Jesus is the suffering servant, the Messiah who saves by accepting in body and spirit the sum total of our hatred and fear, transforming it into new life.
Our introduction to Matthew and to the Advent season is as compelling as Luke's conclusion. "Stay awake!" he proclaims (Matthew 24:42); Jesus' predecessor, John, tells us to "Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (Matthew 3:2). Matthew jolts us out of our complacency so that we will be prepared to recognize the incarnate God, for "at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come" (Matthew 24:44). Brackley emphasizes the importance of Matthew's sentiment, not just during Advent but also in the everyday world: "The worst danger is not pain or poverty. The worst danger is sleeping through the drama of life, the struggle for life and for community against the forces of death and despair." Our faith presupposes that we are an Advent people, ever alert to God's continuous attempts to be born in our lives and communities.