Thursday of the First Week of Advent
In a 2008 essay entitled “Living My Prayer" for NPR’s This I Believe series, Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ, shares how a deeper consideration of Jesus’s commands led to her ministry with death-row inmates as well as victims’ families. Throughout the piece, she returns to the following maxim to describe how she lives out her faith: “I watch what I do to see what I really believe.”
The passage from Matthew’s Gospel that we encounter today on Thursday in the First Week of Advent offers a similar challenge. The evangelist recounts Jesus urging his followers to recognize that discipleship demands more than a simple verbal assent to his teachings; instead they must be lived out through faithful action. To emphasize what is at stake in the disciples’ response to Jesus’s commands, Matthew deploys a pair of contrasting images in the parable of two builders. One builder is wise and constructs a house on a solid foundation that can withstand the challenges ahead, whereas the other is foolish, building on unstable sand resulting in devastation when trouble arises. If disciples only talk the talk, but do not walk the walk, they fall short of authentically embodying Jesus’s teaching and furthering God’s Kingdom both now and in the next age.
But how does attending to preparations for entering the Kingdom relate to Advent? Isn’t this season supposed to be about getting ready for Christ’s Nativity? Yes, and no. In a classic both/and move, the Church’s documents on the liturgical year highlight the two-fold character of this blessed time of waiting before Christmas. During these four weeks, we not only commemorate the events leading up to Jesus’s first entrance into history, but also anticipate his Second Coming at the end of time when he will make all things new. Therefore, these early Advent days—which are also the first days of a new liturgical year—invite us to take stock of how well we are putting Jesus’s teachings into practice here and now as we await the world to come. In doing so, we can identify where we need to shore up our foundations and fortify the alignment between what we believe and what we do.
Liturgist, Office for Pastoral Care and Worship