Too many people live either in the past or in the future. Very few of us live in the present.
Those who live in the past or in the future live in a world which doesn't exist, and because it doesn't exist it has no ground for them to put their feet on. They are doomed forever to float, unable to land.
What is more, Christian faith can be exercised only in the present moment. The present moment is real time. We should all have our watches set to it. In real time the sun shines golden, the rain falls fresh and every breath is a blessing. Even when real time turns sour - when the Babylonians attack, when persecution comes, or even, as in the Gospel, the end of the world begins, we can still stand confidently, our heads held high, because our faith in the word of God is undiminished and promises safety - but only in real time.
The readings from Scripture today invite us to remember some moments from the past and some moments from the future but only so that we might become more firmly grounded in the present moment. Ironically, only those firmly grounded in the comforting reality of the present moment are ready for the future, and do not fear it.
The First Reading takes us back to an anguished, dark moment for the Jews when Nebuchadnezzar was besieging Jerusalem. Their world was falling apart and their lives were on the line. The enemy was sweeping in from the north and in those days it was better not to be taken prisoner.
In the midst of the chaos Jeremiah speaks a prophecy - an inspired word about the future:
I will make a virtuous Branch grow for David ... Judah shall be saved and Israel shall dwell in confidence.
A branch from the stump of David will shoot forth and save his people so that they may dwell in confidence! We know this Branch is Jesus.
It is by remembering the loving plan of God in the midst of the troubles and catastrophes of our life in the world that we are given strength to live the painful present moments of our journey.
Jesus, too, in the Gospel today, prophesies that we will be saved (liberated) so that we may stand (dwell) in confidence before him - and this prophecy, too, is made in the context of a fearful catastrophe - the world's final destruction.
I can't help pointing out that Jesus twice exhorts us to stand - erect and in confidence - and I can't help repeating that only those who live in the present moment can stand because they have their feet on the ground and can therefore exercise their faith in God.
There will always be disasters in our lives. There have been disasters in human history and in the personal lives of individuals ever since the creation of Adam. These will continue to the end of time. Our only real security in all our troubles is in the word of God.
Even in the midst of the most cataclysmic signs of the end of time which lie in the future it is the word of God which proposes itself as our rock of safety but only if we listen to it now, in this present moment.
The cosmic nature of the signs which will shake the powers of heaven, which will cause nations to be in agony and bewildered by the mounting tide of chaos, (the clamour of the ocean and its waves); which will cause men actually to die of fear as they await what menaces the world - is set against the unbelievably simple word of God which will ensure confidence and survival - PRAY!
Can you believe it? God's advice for overcoming fear and death in the midst of disaster - pray!
But beware - pray now not then. Pray in the present so that in the future you will stand in confidence before the Son of Man.
Those who do not pray will not have the strength to stand, they will either die of fear or find themselves trapped in their sins, unworthy of the presence of God.
Let us go to the Responsorial Psalm for some good advice as we begin the period of Advent. You will notice once again that the focus is on where our feet are:
Lord, make me know your ways.Lord, teach me your paths.Make me walk in your truth, and teach me:for you are God my saviour.The Lord is good and upright.He shows the path to those who stray,he guides the humble in the right path;he teaches his way to the poor.
I pray that for each one of us today our Advent journey will begin with a fresh resolve to walk in the paths of the Lord. I pray for scrupulous faithfulness to the Sunday Eucharist among the Catholic people of God; I pray for a humble willingness to confess grave sin in the sacrament of Confession; I pray for a readiness to set aside 'prime time' for prayer every day.
The choice God offers is for now - for today - for this present moment - for each of us.