Sunday, Dec. 1, is the First Sunday of Advent. Mass readings: Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:37-44.

This Sunday marks not only the first of four Sundays of the Advent season, but also the beginning of the new liturgical year. This the Church’s new year — our chance for a spiritual clean slate. Now is the perfect time for “new year’s resolutions” in our prayer practices and a strengthening of some holy habits.

After all, we may be crossing off the days to Christmas, our celebration of the Incarnation, but there is another “coming” that we can’t count on paper chains or calendars with cardboard flaps — the second coming of Christ, of which Jesus himself tells us, “You do not know on which day the Lord will come.”

This is a coming we must continuously prepare for, whether it be the Final Judgment of the world, or of our own soul. Just as the master of the house in the Gospel reading stays awake so as to “not let his house be broken into,” so we have to watch over our souls, on guard against the prowling liar and thief who would like nothing better than to steal our peace, our recollection and our sense of the sacred this season as we reset our spiritual clocks.

Even if we, negligent masters, have become drowsy, slothful or distracted, St. Paul in the second reading is ready to waken us, shaking us out of complacency and sin. “It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep,” he says, “the day is at hand.” What can put us to spiritual sleep? The promise of material pleasures wrapped in shiny bows? The overindulgence of premature celebrations? The stress of trying to create a “perfect” holiday experience? The numbing frenzy of an endless stream of activities? 

Maybe this year we can shake off some of these diversions and “throw off the works of darkness,” as if we were flinging open the drapes after a long night. In the brilliance of the coming day, there is no room for the corruption of darkness, even if it is disguised as good. Anything that takes our focus off of the Lord has a false luster. One Advent candle has more true brilliance than a storefront shop window full of merchandise backlit by a streaming gigawatt of power.

The world doesn’t even know its own darkness, carrying on, oblivious to the countdown. “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man,” Jesus warns his disciples. Scripture describes those days as “corrupt” and “filled with violence” and continual evil and total depravity (Genesis 6:5-12), and we don’t need to look far in our own time to imagine what it may have been like.

But if we have the “armor of light,” then we also have the mission to dissolve the artificial lights of the world that only serve to throw longer shadows. We have the opportunity to carry the true light of the Gospel into the darkness of broken lives and invite them to come with us this Advent, saying with Isaiah, “Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.”

“Let us walk in the light of the Lord!”

Claire Dwyer is editor of SpiritualDirection.com and coordinates adult faith formation at her parish in Phoenix, where she lives with her husband and their six children.