A few days before Thanksgiving, a genteel and refined lady, a recent widow, went to a pet shop to buy a parrot. She thought a parrot would be good company. She found a splendid-looking parrot with bright colored feathers, but the store manager warned her this bird had been raised by a sailor and had a very foul mouth. Undeterred, the woman brought the parrot home, confident that she could reform him. (Females of some species have this tendency, so I'm told!).
At home, the parrot's first outburst took her by surprise and almost floored her! But she quickly recovered. Not a person to be trifled with, she took the bird and locked him in a dark closet for half an hour. Then she put him back in his cage and addressed him solemnly: "Have you learned your lesson?" The parrot was unbowed and responded with the same salty curses as before. Back to the closet he went, this time for a full hour. Again she asked him, "Have you learned your lesson?" But again, the parrot responded with his naughty nautical cursing.
So the widow opened her refrigerator door and threw the parrot inside. When at last she pulled him out, he had turned blue, his fine feathers were frozen stiff and an icicle was already hanging from his beak. "Well now," the widow asked, "Are we going to say those naughty words any more?" "No, ma'am," the parrot responded humbly and courteously. "But will you please tell me what that turkey in there did to you?"
Some parrots are slow learners. Some people are too! That's why Jesus keeps calling us so urgently in the Gospel: "Wake up! Pay attention! Keep alert!" He knows how often we are not attuned to what's really going on around us. We see things happen, but don't realize their significance. We hear words spoken but overlook the feelings that prompt the words. We learn of people's sufferings, but can't muster compassion for their plight. So we are stuck. We don't grow. We don't blossom. We sleep through life.
Think of the truly wonderful things we experience every day: the orange/pink/golden sunrise, the fresh air following a gentle rain, a child's laughter, a random act of kindness from a perfect stranger, a hug from a dear friend, an infant's smile, the warmth of a fireplace on a cold and blustery evening, the familiar touch of someone you love. So many wonders teaching us that life itself is a blessing. But many of these wonders go unnoticed and unappreciated!
Think too of the difficult things that we experience every day: our sins and failings, our pains and losses, our frustrations and disappointments. These too have much to teach us, so God will not shield us from their pain. But through it all, God extends us an invitation to become more human, to embrace life in its fullness as Jesus did. Yet far too often, we forget or misplace God's invitation. Yes indeed, we are slow learners!
Nevertheless Jesus perseveres! He keeps shouting the same message: "Wake up! Pay attention! Stay alert!" He pleads with us to recognize our blessings in both the joys and sorrows of life. The parrot changed his ways because he was afraid he'd end up like the Thanksgiving turkey. Hopefully, we change our ways for a better reason: we finally realize God is in love with us! This Advent season, let's wake up from the slumber of Black Friday greed and consumer wants to embrace what's truly important: the rebirth of Jesus in our hearts and in our family life. If parrots can change their habits, surely we humans can too!