What is your favorite image of God?
Which image do you return to in prayer again and again?
For some it is Jesus as Divine Mercy. With Saint Faustina, we look upon Him and cry out, “Jesus, I trust in You!” Others are drawn to the Good Shepherd. Our Lord tells us, “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10: 11).
I bet no one would choose this image: God as a burglar who breaks into your house in the middle of the night! But, in fact, that is the image that Jesus uses to depict the heart of God at the beginning the Advent season.
Jesus says if the homeowner had known “the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into” (Mt 24:43). What a strange start to Advent! If we are preparing for Christmas, then where are the angels and the shepherds? What about Mary and Joseph, on their journey to Bethlehem? What’s all this about a thief?
Advent begins with a bang: Jesus is coming! But, we don’t know when. Yes, we are drawn to Him. Yes, we honor Him under many images and titles – Shepherd, Mercy, and Emmanuel, “God with us.” But we don’t tell God Who He is; He tells us!
Every image of God has an unexpected twist intertwined within it. In the image of the Divine Mercy, Jesus pours our grace and blessings from His Heart; from that the same Heart that was pierced by the soldier’s lance as He hung upon the cross. His wounds become a source of healing and mercy. The Good Shepherd is no ordinary keeper of sheep; He lays down His life for His sheep – even though no earthly shepherd would ever think of doing that (What dairy farmer would die for a cow?).
Jesus calling Himself a ‘thief’ likewise means more than what it might suggest at first glance. To decipher this, let’s ask, “Where else does a thief appear in the Gospels?” For one, we can look to Saint Dismas, the Good Thief, who is crucified next to Christ. At the crucifixion, Dismas cries out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk 23:42). In a sense, Dismas ‘steals heaven’ by this proclamation of faith in his final breath.
Let’s think like a thief for a moment. How does he succeed? He watches closely. He surveys the territory and notices patterns: When is the family away? When are they asleep? What is the place of easiest access? Oddly, Jesus, our Divine Thief, advises us to avoid an unpleasant surprise: “Stay awake! Be prepared!” This strange thief wants us to be awake and alert when He arrives! When is He coming? He remains cagey: “At an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
Jesus watches us, knows us, and knows our patterns. He desires a warm welcome, a joyful embrace upon His arrival. He wants us to be ready to receive Him, with a generous heart that rejoices in His presence.
Jesus has come once; how was He welcomed in the Incarnation?
At the Annunciation, the Blessed Mother Mary received Him with faith and hope and love: “Fiat! Amen! Yes!” (see Lk 1:38). She was not expecting this grand invitation to become the Mother of God, but she was ready with a mind and heart open to God. Joseph, too, receives the Eternal Son as his adopted Son. Joseph “did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home” (Mt 1:24).
Yet, others reacted differently: King Herod felt threatened by Jesus and tried to destroy Him; the innkeeper had no room for Him. What about us? What about me?
In the Gospel reading at the beginning of Advent, the Church points ahead to the second coming of Christ. He has come, but he shall come again. When will He come? We do not know. But that should not change our commitment to live according to His word and invitation. Stay awake! Be prepared. Saints live lives of openness, faithfulness, and generosity, in joyful expectation of the Lord’s coming. “Maranatha! Emmanuel! Come, Lord Jesus!” (see Rv 22:2). They say these words with their lips and with their actions.
By gazing upon our favorite images of Christ, we prepare our hearts to welcome Him each day. Contemplating the person of Jesus constantly enhances our conformity to Him, the imaging of Him in our very selves.
A young youth minister sees a Good Shepherd Who cares for her – and Who shows her how to minister to her young ‘flock.’ A newly married man hears Jesus’ words about the thief who comes in the night – and ponders how he can ‘steal his wife’s heart’ once again. Can he shower her with love at a moment she doesn’t expect? A kind text midday? Surprising her with flowers on an ordinary Wednesday?
We’re not just waiting; we’re preparing. We receive the Body of Christ in the Eucharist and so we hunger for Him ever more. We honor the Chief Shepherd even as we care for His flock around us. We want Him to come. Lord, we offer You our hearts and our lives today! You don’t need to break into my home; I open my doors to you, Jesus. I offer You myself, even as you offer Yourself to me. “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!”