By Father Casey

A number of years ago my friend Dennis told me about an extraordinary experience he had. He was driving home from work and saw a hitchhiker on the road. Dennis has a huge heart, and knows from his own past what it’s like to need help, so he pulled over. As they were driving along, Dennis had a growing realization that the hitchhiker wasn’t a hitchhiker at all…it was Jesus. Right there, sitting in his passenger seat, was Jesus. Dennis told me his eyes filled with tears and he started to tremble, so it was all he could do to keep the car on the road. Eventually Dennis dropped the man off at his destination, and he drove home.

If it had been just about anyone else, I might have smiled politely, while quietly wondering about the storyteller’s sanity. But my friend Dennis is mature in his faith and a passionate disciple, who drives a big van around every month loaded up with food and clothing to give away to the homeless. He had never had such a vision before, so it’s not like Jesus regularly popped up in his life. So I chose to take him at his word, and marvel at his experience with Christ the hitchhiker on a road in Rhode Island.

In Advent, which finally officially begins this weekend, we are invited to ponder the coming of Christ into the world. The first coming, of course, long ago in Bethlehem, and also the final coming, when he will return in glorious majesty to judge the world. The Scripture readings this season, especially this weekend, feature Jesus’ warnings to his followers to “keep awake.” Like a homeowner on the lookout for a thief in the night, so too should we “be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Matthew 24:42-44).”

These teachings are typically associated with the idea of Jesus’ climactic final advent, but as I remember my friend Dennis’ experience, I wonder if Jesus has something more contemporary in mind. Remember our gospel from last weekend: Jesus says that what we do for the least of his brothers and sisters – all the vulnerable and suffering people of the world – we are doing for him (Matthew 25:31-46). That is to say, he is coming among us all the time, and he is eager to see how we treat him in the humblest faces and places.

When Jesus warns us to be on guard, to not let our worried and distracted lives prevent us from being ready to stand before him (Luke 21:34-36), he isn’t only talking about the “end of the world.” He’s also talking about the ways he shows up that are far from glorious or majestic. Being ready, then, is less about looking up at the sky, or deciphering the Book of Revelation for clues, and more about whether or not we are ready to love the struggling person right in front us.

It is in them that Christ comes. It is in them that our love for Jesus is tested. It is in them that Advent truly happens.

So keep awake, dear friends.

Father Casey +

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