After a three hours long drive I finally reached my destination in the middle of nowhere. It was a ‘Pay and Display’ car park with a ticket machine. To my horror it was taking coins only. My problem was that I had practically stopped using cash, preferring cards as more convenient to use and lighter to carry. The nearest town with a cash machine was about one hour away. If I’d gone there to withdraw cash, I wouldn’t have had enough time to climb the hills. On the other hand if I’d left my car without a £2 ticket I would have risked a hefty fine. I was taken by surprise, completely unprepared.

Life can be surprising. We make some plans for our future, we have some expectations with regard to other people, we hope for undisturbed and constant happiness. But life rarely goes as planned, it rarely fulfils our expectations, and is anything but undisturbed and constant happiness. Seemingly life is rather a permanent struggle against the odds, with short-lived moments of contentment. Seemingly we are at the mercy of unpredictable events, with minimal or no impact upon them from our side. And at this time of year even the weather seems to be against us.

I’m afraid that we are part of the problem. Sometimes we are surprised by things we should have predicted or should have been prepared for. Sometimes we simply have to suffer the consequences of our own behaviour or choices. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to add guilt to your misery; I’m not blaming you for all your failures. What I am telling you is that you are not totally at the mercy of undefined and unpredictable luck; you do have some influence on your life unless you are an absolutely mindless and careless moron.

A woman killed a pedestrian because she was sending a text while driving. For the pedestrian it was fatally bad luck; but on the driver’s side it was a completely predictable situation. It became obvious after the accident; if she had thought about the possible risk she would not have done this at all. Sadly, often it is after the event that we turn our minds to contemplate what we should or shouldn’t have done. It might be a lesson learnt; but wouldn’t it be nice to learn a lesson beforehand?

Today’s gospel introduces us to Advent, a season we narrowly perceive as a run up to Christmas. It’s something much greater. It reminds us of the need to be alert, being prepared to face difficulties and problems. Let me recall one sentence: ‘Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.’ It’s not a call for idleness and resignation, or kind of ‘stiff upper lip’. It’s a call for very active involvement in creating, shaping and directing your own life as much as it’s possible. The second reading gives us directions on what sort of activity is expected from us: ‘May the Lord be generous in increasing your love and make you love one another and the whole human race.’Perhaps this prayer of St Paul could become yours and mine for this Advent, to love more and to love better.

Since my unfortunate journey to the ‘Pay and Display’ car park without cash, I always keep a couple of £1 coins with me. Last week I went to Winding Walks. When I approached the ticket machine, it said ‘Not in Service’, and I didn’t have to pay. It was a nice surprise, and I saved £1. But I’m not going to give up carrying some coins with me. I’ll be prepared, because who knows what could happen.