In November 1899, Everett Elting was born in Volin, SD. Drafted into World War I, the young Everett Elting, “Double E” went to fight the war to end all wars. Everett Elting, “Double E” never saw the French coast or the horrible trenches Ypres. He contracted tuberculosis and was assigned to Arizona instead. There, they gave “Double E” was given a choice: he could comfort himself and wait for death or life with either a bottle or a bible. Everett Elting, “Double E” chose the bible and he waited.
Consider this, life is 100% fatal. Death is certain—even more certain than taxes—yet how often do we think about the end of our life? Each and every one of us is on a one-way trip to eternity but who of us lives as to consider it? We’d rather stay comfortable by engaging the realities we can see and touch rather than the uncertain certainty of our own death. That each of us will die is known, when each of us will die is unknown.
This is why Jesus refers to himself as a thief in today’s Gospel: “Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” He says it, not to teach us about his sneakiness but about our inattentiveness.
Do not confuse Jesus the thief as a weak Jesus; he will not be weak when he comes again. When he first came, 2010 years ago, it was as a meek and helpless baby. He lived a hidden life for 30 years. He made no defense at his trial and was led out like a lamb to the slaughter. When Jesus comes the second time it will be in power and majesty. Jesus the thief will not be weak. No, we will be unawares and inattentive.
Advent must be a time of attentive waiting so that Jesus will find us eager for his arrival. The enemy of our humanity, who is Satan, he wishes us to be inattentive and even drowsy—as if we’d just finished too much turkey. Satan is very happy for us to be concerned only exterior preparations for Christmas but what of our internal and spiritual preparation?
If we really are on a one-way trip to eternity, what are you doing to prepare? What would you do if you were heading to Europe for a weak? China for a year? Have you read up ahead of time? Have you prepared a currency exchange? And what of your soul? We need Advent to prepare us, we need Advent to ready our hearts. Look at our opening prayer from today: “increase our strength of will for doing good that Christ may find an eager welcome.” Notice we do not pray for inspiration but for strength of will: to do what we know we should.
But I have no magic suggestions for your Advent other than doing the classic Christian exercises: works of charity, prayer, fasting, and penance are always ways to prepare for the King. Conversion as well, St. Paul tells us to awake from sleep. “Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” St. Paul is talking to baptized and confirmed Christians of Rome, not to new converts or pagans but to those who should know and are called to live: just like you and I.
Everett Elting, “Double E” Dickinson waited for death until September 1976, when he was 77 years old. “Double E,” my grandfather, died and was buried at St. Andrew’s in Granite Falls, MN. In the cemetery south of town Everett Elting, “Double E” Dickinson’s tombstone bore two simple words: “No Regrets.” Let us live with no regrets, so as to welcome our Lord and King who comes in power and glory.