“Don’t worry about it.” Those words would remain with Kermit A. Tyler for the rest of his life.
A first lieutenant in the US Army Air Force, he was on temporary duty at the radar information center at Fort Shafter on the Hawaiian island of Oahu on the morning of December 7, 1941. A radar operator in the northern part of the island reported an unusually large “blip” on his screen indicating a large number of aircraft about one hundred thirty miles away and approaching fast.
“Don’t worry about it,” Tyler told the radar operator. He thought it was a group of US B-17 bombers coming in from the mainland. But he was wrong. That blip turned out to be the first wave of a surprise Japanese attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor—an attack that plunged America into World War II.
After examining all the information, it was determined that the radar equipment worked effectively, but the information on the screen was not interpreted properly. It’s quite possible that if the attack had been launched a month or two later, after people were properly trained, the war would have looked a lot different.
Watch and Prepare. During this season of Advent, three of the four Sunday Mass readings focus on our need to be alert and awake. They tell us to keep an eye on our spiritual radar screens, and they teach us how to interpret the information accurately.
On the first Sunday of Advent, Jesus warns us to “be watchful” and “alert” (Mark 13:33). On the second Sunday, John the Baptist tells us that someone who is very powerful is coming. He tells us to get ready for him by repenting of our sins (1:1-8). And finally on the third Sunday, as if the first two warnings weren’t enough, John the Baptist virtually repeats himself, telling us to “make straight the way of the Lord” (John 1:23).
That’s a lot of warning! Clearly, something very important is about to happen, and God wants us to be as prepared as possible to receive it. So let’s take a look at what we are supposed to be getting ready for.
This World Is Not Our Home. When Jesus tells us to watch and be alert on the first Sunday of Advent, he is clearly talking about the end of time, when he will come again in glory. He is telling us to be alert because no one knows when the Second Coming will occur. He doesn’t want us to be caught off guard.
At first, it may seem out of sync to be thinking about the Second Coming just as we’re getting ready to celebrate Jesus’ first coming at Christmas. But there is a deeper logic at work here. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “By sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming” (CCC, 524). If we think about Jesus’ first appearance as a baby, we will remember how wonderful he is. And as we remember his glory, we will long to see him when he comes again.
In recent years, we have seen the kind of signs that Jesus spoke about, things that might suggest that the end of the world is coming soon. We have seen wars, natural disasters, and terrorist attacks. Some people take these events as ominous signs that the Second Coming is imminent. But since no one except our heavenly Father knows exactly when the end will come, spending too much time dwelling on these “signs” can distract us from Jesus himself.
While some people do focus on signs of the end of the world, many others point out that every generation has its fair share of wars, disasters, and upheavals. Consequently, the signs can all too easily be disregarded or dismissed. Indifference to these signs cause us to say: “Don’t worry about the Second Coming. It’s a long way off.”
St. Paul believed the Second Coming was imminent. Three hundred years later, St. Augustine thought the end was near. It turns out that both of them were wrong. But even though they miscalculated, these saints were right to urge us to be ready for Jesus’ return. Both Paul and Augustine would have liked this story about St. Francis of Assisi. One day, one of his brothers asked him: “What would you do if you knew the Lord was coming tomorrow?” Francis replied: “Nothing different. I’d just keep hoeing my garden.” Francis wouldn’t make any eleventh-hour changes to his routine. He was ready for Jesus.
Advent is an opportunity for us to remember that we were made for heaven. Jesus wants us to keep our eyes fixed on our heavenly home even as we go about our lives on this earth.
He wants us to fix our hearts on the “New Jerusalem,” where war will be a thing of the past and where there is no poverty, sickness, or death. He wants us to think about a place where no one will be exploited or abused ever again, a place where everyone will live in peace and love.
This is the future that Jesus wants us to focus on. He wants us to spend time every day remembering his promise that he will come again, so that we can find the right balance between living in this world and longing for the next. He wants us to have the same attitude as St. Francis.
What about Sin? On the second and third Sundays of Advent, John the Baptist tells us to prepare the way for Jesus’ first coming. And for John, one of the most important ways we can prepare for Christmas is by repenting of our sins.
Sin is not a very popular topic. The idea that our misdeeds have eternal consequences seems to have gone out of fashion. It’s considered more acceptable to gloss over our sins and failings, and focus instead on the inherent goodness in every person.
Of course people are good. Yes, we are the crown of God’s creation. We all have many wonderful virtues and gifts. But that’s not the whole story. We all have the potential to sin as well—and we all act on this potential more often than we like to admit. What’s worse, we hurt our relationship with Jesus when we sin, and we hurt the ones we love. We cause divisions. We hold on to resentments. We puff ourselves up with pride. In a sense, we are our own worst enemies!
All the Old Testament prophets spoke about sin and the need to repent. Jesus himself urged us to repent. Throughout the history of the Church, popes and saints, bishops and priests have called believers to repent and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. None of these people enjoyed talking about sin. None of them thought it was a fun thing to do. But they did—and they still do—because they know how much power and grace come to us when we confess our sins. They know how crucial repentance is when it comes to us drawing closer to Jesus and to each other.
Jesus is the light that “shines in the darkness” (John 1:5). His light shines into a world darkened by sin. It shines in our hearts as well, confronting the darkness of unconfessed sin in us. It’s his light—the light of his holiness, his perfection, his mercy, and his love—that urges us to expose our sin and be set free from its grasp.
In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we ask Jesus to meet our inner darkness head-on and deliver us from it. We ask him to reconcile us with our heavenly Father and to cleanse us of our sin and guilt. And he does!
When we are reconciled, the obstacles hindering our relationship with Jesus are removed. The light of Christ shines in us. We feel better. We feel cleansed. We feel free from the burden and guilt of sin. We feel right with God.
Seen in the light of Jesus’ love for us, his warnings to watch and to be alert no longer sound like menacing threats. Instead, we see them as personal, heartfelt invitations. They are more like words of warning from our spouse or close friend: “I know these people you are about to meet. They are out to hurt you. They don’t care about you. Please be careful when you’re around them.”
Get Ready! Advent is a call to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. It is a call to repent and ask God to take away our sins so that we can more fully enjoy being with Jesus. Our heavenly Father is full of mercy. He always forgives. If we want to experience that forgiveness, all we have to do is go to our Father in Confession and be reconciled.
The attack on Pearl Harbor might have been avoided if the people working at the radar station had been better prepared. Let’s take a lesson from history and make sure we do the best we can as we prepare to celebrate Christmas.