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Every once in awhile I watch Jeopardy on television. At one point the host poses a question and waits a few seconds for a contestant to get the answer. Here’s my question. What’s the last of the seven capital sins?
If you got the answer, Sloth, you’re right. Sloth is the last of the capital sins and that’s where you would expect to find it, at the end of the list. It’s sleeping there, because that’s what sloth is. It’s laziness; it’s complacency. It can be spiritual or intellectual or physical laziness or complacency. It could be one or all of them together.
The passage in St. Mark’s gospel we’re reading today begins on the Mount of Olives. Jesus and his disciples have just visited the temple in the city of Jerusalem and one of his disciples points out the majestic temple across the Kidron Valley. “Look, teacher, what stones and what buildings!” Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be one stone left upon another that will not be thrown down.”
Can we hear complacency in the disciple’s voice. “ We have everything here, a great place, what more could we want.” Sloth is complacency in that it thinks there nothing more to do; we’ve made it and we don’t need anything more. The Advent season warns us about complacency.
You can see laziness,too, another characteristic of sloth, in the servants Jesus mentions in today’s gospel. The Master goes away and they seem to breathe a sigh of relief. “He’s gone, now we can do whatever we want. We can take it easy.”
The message we hear at the beginning of Advent is the same message Jesus spoke to his disciples on the Mount of Olives. “Watch! Stay awake!” You don’t know when I will knock on your door.
Our first reading today from the Prophet Isaiah is filled with similar warnings about not paying attention to God. You’re like dirty rags, withered leaves, he says to them. You’ve become like mud, hard clay that stuck and hardened in place. You need a potter to come along and water the hardness in you and mold you again. You need the potter’s hands to soften you and give you new life.
That’s what the Advent season is about. We asking God to awaken us from complacency, from laziness, from sloth. The psalm response in our today’s liturgy sums up that prayer so beautifully.
“Lord, make us turn to you, let us see your face and we shall be saved.”
What is the face of God we are to turn to in this season? It’s the face of Jesus Christ, first as a child, born in Bethlehem. Then as a man, who speaks God’s words to us, who reaches into our lives and shares our sufferings. Then, as our Risen Lord whom we hope to see and who promises us life everlasting.
Advent, the season we begin today, is filled with the grace of God. Let’s watch for it.