12/3/2017 – 1st Sunday of Advent

Anyone recall the last word that Jesus says in the Gospel today? Yes, “Watch!”

The Gospel opens with Jesus saying, “Be watchful. Be alert.”

It is very important that we be attentive to what has transpired in the world the last twenty years since the introduction of the cell phone and most especially in the last decade with the iPhone and its variations.

We went from this (holding phone to my ear) to this (looking down at the screen.)

Look familiar? Please understand me. I am making an observation, not a judgment.

Most people today, especially millennials and younger watch their phone or devices way more than they watch and interact with their family members or friends.

As of March 2017, the average person 18-25 years old watches their phone or device 5 hours a day – one third of their total waking hours. That is up 20% since 2015 alone.

(Looking down.) This is a common sight everywhere today. This obsession with our devices isolates and separates us from those immediately around us as we seek to be connected to those whose texts, tweets, snaps, Instagram’s, posts and oh, so old fashioned emails pop up on our screens.

Jesus tells us to “be watchful, be attentive.” Why, for what?

We’ve begun our Advent journey. This is a time of preparation. For the secular world, it is a time to get ready to celebrate Christmas whether you believe in Jesus Christ as the incarnate Son of God or not. It is preparation for the “happy holidays.”

It is marketing madness and conspicuous consumption, of meaningless music and sappy movies, of going into debt with abandon because it wouldn’t be Christmas without Visa.

Even for us stalwart Catholics, we often think of Advent as merely preparation for the birth of Jesus. Yet the heart of Advent, especially these first two weeks, focuses on preparing for the future and being ready for the second coming of Jesus at the end of time. Advent points to the future and not merely the past.

Jesus has given us work to do in today’s gospel. He wants us to be his disciples, to join him in his mission of proclaiming and building the Kingdom of God here and now until he returns.

How do we do that? By remembering what he told us last week. “I was hungry and you gave me food; thirsty and you gave me drink; naked and you clothed me; ill and you cared for me; imprisoned and you visited me; a stranger and you welcomed me”

Jesus wants us to watch – and not just our screens. Jesus wants us to watch, to be attentive to his presence in one another and in the circumstances that surround us.

Jesus wants us to watch out for one another and care for one another. He wants us to welcome the stranger in our midst, whoever and however that may be.

These Sundays of Advent, Fr. Cody and I are preaching about the virtue and practice of “hospitality.” We base this on our parish Vision, 2026, of who we want to be as a parish community in nine years from now.

Our six elements of discipleship: grow, worship, serve, give, connect and share have focused our effort and our direction.

Under the element of worship, this is what we stated: “in 2026 celebration of the Eucharist at Saint Michael Parish is welcoming to all, where a pervasive sense of family makes everyone feel at home.”

The strategic initiative that in the next two to three years will help us achieve this reality is entitled, “Enhance the Sunday Experience.”

The first action item states: “create a welcoming atmosphere from the parking lot to the pew.” Another states: “everyone realizes that they are a hospitality minister.”

This is a huge shift in our individualistic culture. Yet, it is essential that we realize together that hospitality and helping one another feel at home is everyone’s mission and ministry. It just doesn’t belong to the few who stand at the doors or in the Gathering Space, or make coffee and put out the donuts and snacks each week.

We are all ministers of hospitality. So what does that mean? Just a few points this week.

Watch. Today (tonight), make eye contact with the person you met at the beginning of Mass and said you would pray for and smile at them. Go ahead and do it now.

Then at the Kiss of Peace, I’ll remind you to do that again – look at them in the eye, smile and share the sign of Christ’s peace.

But wait, there’s more. Next week when you come back to Mass, watch for them. Look for them before Mass. When you see them, make sure you look them in the eye, smile and reintroduce yourself because you may have forgotten their name.

Next week, Fr. Cody and I will up the challenge a bit because we want Saint Michael Parish to be known for what I call “transformational hospitality,” a hospitality that is life changing for us and most especially for those who will be inviting to join us at Christmas.

We need to be on the watch and be ready to treat them and one another as we would Christ himself. This is radical, transformational hospitality in this world of watchers. I’m really happy that every one of you are here. In Christ, I love you.