December 7, 2016 - Ambrose, Bishop of Milan
The great thing about working on the ground crew for the Chicago Cubs is that you get to spend every game day at Wrigley Field, raking the infield dirt, walking up and down the concourse, feeling the energy of the fans. The hard part is that it doesn't pay very well. Actually, as a union job, it pays just fine, but the hours are limited. The game day ground crew (there is more than one ground crew) has to get to the field a few hours before the game to get ready for the start of play, and they have to stay a half of an hour or so after the game to sweep out the dugouts and take out the trash and do whatever is needed to make sure the field will be ready the next day. All told, with a good rain delay or extra innings, it could be six or seven hours, but usually it was closer to four. And that's only on game day.
When it's not game day, most of the ground crew goes to their "real" job--the one that pays the bills. There are a handful of full-time members who work throughout the season, taking care of the field in between home stands, and, of them, there are three or four who work full-time year-round to take care of the park and oversee any improvements that are made over the off-season, but most of us only work when the Cubs are in town. Except when there's some extra work to do on the side.
When the head of the ground crew knows that there's important work to be done whenever the Cubs are not playing, he will ask a few of the part-timers to come in for a few hours and get that work done. It could be replacing some of the sod where the outfielders have worn it out during a long homestand. It could be helping apply fertilizer or fungicide to the grass to keep Wrigley Field lush and green. Or it could be doing any number of maintenance chores in and around the park.
One day, Roger asked me and a few guys to come in to help do some work out in one of the remote parking lots. Weeds had grown up in the cracks in the asphalt, and, along the sidewalk, the grass had begun to spill over its appointed place. We were to take some shovels and get it all under control, but our supervisor encouraged us to take our time. I needed the hours, and I wanted the boss to continue to ask me to come in for those special jobs, so I went to work with some focus and determination. Most of the other guys worked slowly, chatting and enjoying a day in the sun. "Why are you busting it so hard?" a senior member of our work detail asked. "You heard what he said: 'Take your time.'" I ignored him and kept working.
Now, a Chicago summer is nothing like an Alabama summer, but it still get's pretty hot. After a period of intense work, I stopped to catch my breath, leaning on my shovel and watching while all of the rest of the crew piddled around in the dirt. I wasn't paying attention when one of them whispered to the rest of the crew, and, by the time I turned around to see what was going on, the boss had walked up to see everyone else hard at work except me. I was thoroughly embarrassed. I hung my head and went back to work, sure that I had been caught and labeled a "slacker."
Jesus said, "Be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes." Of course, Jesus doesn't mean, "Look busy in case I show up when you don't expect it." He means, "Stay focused; don't give up; honor the work the master has given you by remaining alert until he comes."
Advent is a season of keeping watch for Jesus. There are seventeen more days until Christmas. Presents must be bought. Meals must be planned. Travel arrangements must be made. But this is not only a season of preparing for December 25 but also for the coming of our savior, whose return is not inked in on the calendar. That's a harder watch to keep. Some would scare us with the prospect of our savior's return. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" becomes "Turn or burn!" on the lips of an angry preacher. Fictional stories of the end times portray the coming of Jesus as a zombie apocalypse for which we must all be prepared. The Book of Revelation, which was originally written to encourage the persecuted followers of Jesus, has become its own source of fear for twenty-first-century Christians. But that's not what this gospel lesson--this passage of good news--is supposed to tell us.
We are called to wait on Jesus the way that servants wait for their master to return from a wedding feast. That's kind of like a babysitter waits on the parents to come home after a party. She or he knows that they will arrive at any minute. Even if they're delayed, the babysitter doesn't leave the kids unattended. She doesn't invite her friends over for a party. She may fall asleep on the couch, but she's ready to spring up as soon as the sound of the garage door is heard. We are called to do our job as followers of Jesus--to wait and watch and hope even when there has been a delay. Jesus isn't inviting us into fear. He's asking us to trust that he'll come and save us at any minute. Our salvation is not far away. It's right around the corner. And we wait and watch for it in hope.