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Pastor's Column

Caught by a Red Light!

Pastor’s Column

First Sunday of Advent

December 3, 2023

“Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know the time when he will come…

What I say to you, I say to all: watch!”

Mark 13:33–37

Christ advises us to be always on the watch because God often acts in sudden, surprising ways. Neither do we know when our lives will end and with that, the end of our opportunity to choose heaven and avoid hell or purgatory. What he does promise us is that we are likely to be caught off guard. It’s one of his most common themes, so best to pay attention!

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 and came with great benefits (like flying). 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 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 God I truly 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 did survive this (she had a sense of humor, who knew?), 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. Though we never know when he’s going to show up, Jesus does promise us that it will almost certainly be surprising. 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.

We don’t know what is coming next; life is no longer predictable. But, really, has life ever 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 suddenly, in a heartbeat, be over.

Father Gary


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