Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Dec. 1.
All of my vacations as a child were trips with my parents to visit my grandparents in Fort Worth. We’d pile all nine of us into the station wagon and set out from Ponca City in northern Oklahoma for what was then a 6½ hour drive — this was before I-35 was completed.
As kids we had no conception of the route that our parents were taking nor did we have any real sense of how long it would take. With seven children there were frequent bathroom stops, memorable car sickness events and the constant refrain: “Are we almost there yet?”
Once we left one of my brothers at a service station in Paul’s Valley, Okla., and were 30 minutes down the road before anyone said anything. Actually, I didn’t even notice! My parents were not pleased. We returned to find him happily drinking a coke that a kind service station attendant had given him.
We always knew the desired destination: Fort Worth. But we children had only a vague notion of the unexpected detours and even the planned intermediate stop. For instance, there would be a picnic lunch at some point. Our parents knew the route; they were in the driver’s seat. We only knew we were near Fort Worth when its skyline finally burst into view.
Today is the First Sunday of Advent. We’ve just set out down the road of another liturgical year. Our readings speak to us about the road of life that we are on, following Christ to our ultimate destination, the Kingdom of God. Like children headed for Fort Worth, we don’t know how long this journey with Christ will be, nor what the intermediate stops and unexpected detours on this journey will be.
Will there be unexpected, emergency stops at the doctor’s office? Will we face abandonment more serious than just being left behind at a service station? Detours due to job transfers or legal problems, things we have done or were done to us? Family problems, a financial windfall or a time of financial disaster? Good times and bad times. Sickness and health.
We are headed for the Kingdom of God and to get there, we need to make sure that Jesus is the one in the driver’s seat, because he’s the one who knows the way.
There are some things on this journey about which we have a lot of influence and other areas of life about which we have very little control. But either way, one day our destination will suddenly burst into view. “The Son of Man is coming at an hour we do not expect.”
I’ll bet every one of you has had that experience of life taking you in directions that you did not expect. That is certainly how it has been with me. Most of my experiences have been very positive — I never dreamed that the Lord would grant me the great privilege of becoming the bishop of Little Rock, or for that matter, any of the intermediate stops in almost 40 years of priestly ministry. But there have also been some painful detours, like having the funerals of two of the Oklahoma City bombing victims.
We all know the ultimate destination we want for our lives — none of us wants to go to hell — but we don’t know much else.
I doubt that any of you inmates ever expected that your life’s journey would take you into the walls of this prison, but God can turn even the worst thing we have ever done to his purposes. You may or may not have a clear idea of how long this detour on your journey through life will last, nor any of the other likely intermediate stops along the way.
If you want to reach the ultimate destination of heaven, you need to make sure that Jesus is the one in the driver’s seat of your life, because he is the one who knows the way. And of course, this will require you to live the way he wants you to live.
In today’s second reading St. Paul gives us a list of behaviors that are unacceptable, including sexual immorality, rivalry and jealousy. Which is why Jesus says in today’s Gospel that we’d better be ready for about anything — both unexpected stops along the way and the ultimate unexpected stop at the end of the journey, when our eternal destination suddenly bursts into view and we’d better be ready.
As our Gospel says, “You too must stand ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
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