In today’s Gospel there is a short little parable. It concerns a householder who had a number of servants. Once, before leaving for a trip abroad, he called them together and gave each of them a job to do. He urged them to be responsible saying, ‘When I return I want to find you awake.’ He singled out the doorkeeper for a special warning.
Christ’s story ends there with that warning ringing in our ears. Let us take it a little further, concentrating on the doorkeeper. Perhaps the greatest danger facing him is not so much that he may fall asleep on the job, as that he may grow accustomed to it.
In the beginning he is all excited about the task. He feels honored that the Boss placed so much trust in him. He loves the uniform. When he puts it on he feels he is somebody. He is conscientious to the point of being scrupulous. It is not so much a job for him as a labor of love.
But time goes by. Opening and closing doors can get very monotonous. The novelty wears off. Slowly but surely the dust of habit accumulates on him and his world. A deadly routine takes over. He is still responsible, still unfailingly at his post. But he is merely going through the motions. The initial love and enthusiasm have evaporated. His heart is no longer in it. When the Master returns he will undoubtedly find him at his post. He will be awake, but he will not be alive. He will be dead, for he has lost his soul.
Habit gradually deadens us and in the end snuffs out all life. We get sunk in ruts of tradition and conformity. We forget we once had dreams. We sit in our armchairs practicing idle and musty virtues, passing judgment on everything and everybody.
What happens in ordinary life happens in our Christian life too. We can get into a deadly routine with the result that we are Christians by habit only. We are merely going through the motions. We are taking part in rituals that have lost all freshness and meaning. We don’t hear the Gospel anymore. It just goes in one ear and out the other. The face of Christ has vanished from our sight.
So what’s the solution? We need to be disturbed from time to time. This is where Advent comes in. Advent issues a great ‘wake up’ call to us. It provides us with an opportunity to shake off the dust of habit, and to let Christ come alive in our lives once more.
The Lord is coming. He will come to each of us at death, and to the world at the end of time. We don’t know the day or the hour of his coming. Any time is the wrong time for the unfaithful servant. But any time is the right time for the faithful servant. The faithful servant doesn’t fear the Lord’s coming; he welcomes it.
We have to be ready. How? By being alive, alert, responsible servants of the Lord and of one another.