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Expecting the unexpected, ready
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Advent is a season pregnant with expectation.  Those of us able (and willing) to make the inner journey discover untold mysteries unfolding at every turn of the road, even as every turning page of the prophet Isaiah shines new light on the darkness of our unredeemed world.  The dawn is fast coming.  Over the eastern horizon, the morning star is rising. The first rays of the new day’s beginning paint the sky bright hues, as the clouds’ blood red stains give way to pastels of gold, rose, and turquoise blue.   For us a child will soon be born.

But, as Malachi warns, “Who can endure the day of his coming?” (3:2, 3).  “Who can stand when he appears?”  For he will “purify”, and “refine”, and draw near to us for judgment (3:3, 4, 5).  As much as Advent promises the Prince of Peace, it also anticipates the Second Coming of the King of Kings.

Our challenge is, always and everywhere, to be prepared.  If in faith, hope, and selfless generosity we walk as children of the light, we have nothing to fear.  The promise of Malachi 3:20 will be fulfilled on the last day: “For lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch, says the Lord of hosts.  But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays…” (3:19-20).

Last night, I spoke to a parishioner whose life on earth had just about come to a tragic end.  He’d been driving Interstate 80 Saturday through a storm. A long stretch of dry highway had succumbed, altogether too quickly, to a sheet of ice and snow.  “The truckers were still speeding along,” he recounted.  “I tried to maintain an even pace, but they were even passing me on the right.”

Suddenly, he lost control.  His vehicle, only recently repaired after thieves had stolen and stripped it down, glided left toward the center divider.  “It was just a series of cables,” he recalled. “Somehow, my car flew through the gap left for police to turn around.”  What followed keeps flashing in front of his eyes, as if in a late-night horror flick or repeating nightmare.  “I can still see it as clearly as when it happened.  I was skidding into the oncoming traffic.”

A semi slammed into his passenger door, spinning him around like a toy.  “After that, I felt the impact of three cars, almost at the same time.  My car was disintegrating around me.  The windows caved in.  There were shards of glass flying everywhere.  I thought of my family.  I was certain I would die.”

When he came to, his car was in pieces and he was covered with glass.  Tiny slivers cut the inside of his mouth and throat.  He tried to climb out but was pinned in the car.  But, as he gradually assessed his situation, he realized that a miracle had taken place.  He wasn’t just alive.  He wasn’t even injured.

“I don’t know how I survived,” he told me from the hotel room to which the hospital personnel had delivered him.  “I keep seeing the same scene again, and every time I do, I get the shivers.  But my only casualty is my car.”   We may not know what happened to the other drivers, but we do know that the one with the least prospects for survival has the greatest reason to be grateful.

So well did he look that the highway patrolman who arrived at the scene gave him a $60 ticket for exceeding what should have been an appropriate speed.

It could have been a certificate of death.  It could have been a ticket to front row seating on Judgment Day.  He not only got a second chance to live, but he got another opportunity for Life.   His Advent has become suddenly real.

We don’t need a near-death experience to bring the Advent message home.

We just need to pay attention to the signs.  They tell us that this world is not here forever, and in fact it may not be here for long.  They warn us not to take God’s patience for granted, for, as St. Peter wrote long ago, “In the Lord’s eyes, one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years are as a day.  The Lord does not delay in keeping his promise - though some consider it ‘delay’.  Rather he shows you generous patience, since he wants none to perish but all to come to repentance.  The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and on that day the heavens will vanish with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and all its deeds will be made manifest.” (2 Peter 3:8-10)

I’m not arguing that my parishioner needed another chance for repentance.  I am stating that we should all take a lesson from his near-tragedy.  None of us is so far advanced along the road to holiness that we don’t need a wake-up call.  All of us are works in progress.  And all of our works will be tested:

“Since everything is to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people must you not be!  How holy in your conduct and devotion, looking for the coming of the day of God and trying to hasten it!  Because of it, the heavens will be destroyed in flames and the elements will melt away in a blaze. What we await are new heavens and a new earth where, according to his promise, the justice of God will reside.” (2 P 3:11-13).  This is Malachi’s New Rising Sun.

This is the Son of God silently waiting for the moment of his birth, hidden in the womb of the Virgin.   He is the One who alone can deliver us from death.