Caught by a Red Light!
First Sunday of Advent
November 29, 2020
“Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know the time when he will come…
What I say to you, I say to all: watch!”
Christ advises us to be always on the watch because God often acts in sudden, surprising ways (like the Covid crisis). Neither do we know when our lives will end and with that, the end of every earthly opportunity to choose heaven and avoid hell or purgatory. What he does promise us is that we are almost certainly going to be caught off guard.
The first job that I had at American Airlines many years ago was as a “reservation sales agent”. This was a tough job, though it paid well with great benefits. At that time I was answering the phone for eight hours a day, taking airline reservations, a task I found gruesome at best. I had a little headset attached to a phone pad (called a “Collins Pad”), and among the many other buttons was a very scary looking red light. It would come on after my supervisor had listened to a series of my calls to let me know she had been “evaluating” my work without my knowing it. One never knew when the supervisor was going to be listening.
One day after a particularly difficult series of calls, out of the intense frustration of dealing with difficult customers, I said to myself out loud between calls, “Holy cow, I really hate this job!” And at that very moment the dreaded red light came on and my supervisor said to me, “Well, in that case, why don’t you just quit!” My career survived this, but I learned to be more watchful in the future of what I said and did, because you just never knew who was watching. In other words, vigilance: a lesson for life.
Jesus advises us to be watchful. We never know when he’s going to show up, but he promises us that it will almost certainly be in a surprising way. So many times I have presided at a funeral of someone who was caught by surprise by the sudden presence of Christ at death. Without warning, the ride was over and with it the opportunity to do good, to grow, to repent. When I pass by a cemetery, I’m always reminded that many of those there had plans for the day that they died, not realizing that the red light was about to come on the phone pad of life.
This promises to be an unusual Advent for us Catholics. Nothing seems normal right now. Covid has thrown everything for a loop. We don’t know what is coming next; life is no longer predictable. But really, has life ever really been predictable? Unlike my supervisor from so long ago, God is always watching and always listening, because he wants to reward us for our choices. If we are not careful we might also be caught by surprise at an unexpected moment when it is no longer possible to repent and the time to do good for others and grow in our relationship with the Lord will be over forever. We remain vigilant: this is God’s will, because we just don’t know when Christ is going to suddenly show up and the game of life will be over.