Mar. 28, 2017

FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT

ANOTHER CALL TO VIGILANCE

The season of advent is one period that reminds Christians of the need to stay alert in preparation for the coming Messiah. Here, we note that the coming takes two forms: the birth of the infant Jesus which is celebrated at Christmas and the second coming of the Son of Man. Today's readings seem to point more to the second coming as Christ says, "For you do not know on which day the Lord will come". The Greek word "Parousia" is often used to translate this coming. In the Roman society, parousia referred to a ruler's visitation to a city or the arrival of a deity bringing salvation to the people. Christians thus adapted the word, combining both meanings to signify Christ's coming to complete God's final rule which began in his ministry. It is about this great coming that the readings of today challenge us to a life of vigilance. 

The first reading recalls Isaiah's prophecy concerning Judah. The prophet invites Judah repeatedly to trust in God rather than rely on human power. He envisions God enthroned in the temple while all nations stream to worship him. In the words of Isaiah, "In days to come, the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it" (Is.2:2; Mic.4:1-4). The passage reminds us of the invincible power of God. It refers to the restoration of Israel to the glory of their God. The Good Shepherd will reign in their lives after their punishment and the threats from Assyria. The image of Israel's splendid new future is evoked here. It is a future anchored strictly on the greatness of their God. All nations will acknowledge God. All nations will worship him, "Come, let us climb the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths" (Is.2:3). 

To walk in the paths of the Lord, to climb his holy mountain demands vigilance. Saint Paul warns us against procrastination. He invites us to be awake since our salvation is near with the coming of Christ. In order to walk in the way of the Lord, we must cast off the cloak or works of darkness and embrace the light of the Lord. We must conduct ourselves without shame. We must shun the ways of the flesh: drunkenness, promiscuity, lust, rivalry and jealousy. We must put on Christ, be ready for his coming. In the Psalms we read: "Who shall go up to the mountain of the Lord? Who shall stand in his holy place? The clean of hands and pure of heart, whose heart is not set on vanities, who does not swear an oath in order to deceive" (Ps.24:3-4). 

In the gospel, Jesus takes his disciples back to the days of Noah. What happened then? People were consumed by the flood. Why? Because they refused to pay attention to the call to repentance. They failed to walk in the ways of God. They didn't take his words seriously, hence they were taken unawares. Christ says, "So will it be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left". Then he warns, "Therefore, stay awake!" The fact that two people will be together, one taken while the other is left shows the impartiality of God. 

Think of it this way. You and your friend are traveling to another country together. While putting together your luggage, you include an item you know wouldn't pass through security. As you enter security check, you already feel nervous because you wonder if the liquid in your hand luggage will mistakenly cross over. But it doesn't. You are pulled aside and your friend is allowed to continue unhindered. The security take you to a different direction for a more thorough search while your friend has no other option than to move on else he be queried. It is not because it's you, but because you have some contraband. That's how the separation happens. Sin is a contraband in the heavenly journey. It doesn't cross divine security checks. It's either dropped or the sinner won't cross the screening. It is not as a result of discrimination. It is because of the fact that one is prepared while the other is not. It does not matter whether you are husband and wife, brother and sister. Noah lived among his people. All of them were given the same warning/opportunity but Noah took it more seriously than others. That's what saved him from the flood. God is only interested in having us live good lives in order to be saved. 

For us Christians, advent reminds us of the need to prepare for Christ's coming. However, the nature of preparation is important here. Oftentimes, the tendency is to prepare materially only. We have lots of items on sale at this time. We have lots of games and sports lined up for Christmas celebration. We have lots of cinemas and shows to make the event colorful. We have lots of social activities that we intend to be part of. Those are good in themselves. But they satisfy the material aspect of the season. How about the spiritual? Can't we have a schedule that invites our families to prayer, a schedule that reminds them of the need to stay away from crazy things and relationships at Christmas? Staying awake means being vigilant and spiritually alert. It means avoiding sinful acts. It means recognizing the need to be close to Christ. 

As Catholics, advent calls us to a life of reflection. A little like in lent, we use purple vestment that helps us contemplate the meaning of His suffering. The Gloria is omitted at the Sunday masses. Opportunities are created for confessions to enable us reconcile with the church and with the God made Flesh. Families are reminded to pray together in order to welcome the new born king as Mary and Joseph welcomed him at Nazareth. That's the call to vigilance. Let us not be distracted by the ways of the world. The mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the highest of the mountains. It is the Sacred Mountain of the Blessed Eucharist where we encounter Christ, welcome him into our hearts and our homes. In the end, all will recognize the greatness of the Lord. All will want to be part of the house of the Lord. All nations will stream to the love manifested to us in the Blessed Eucharist. But we have to be awake. We must make good use of advent in order to welcome Christ the savior of the world.   

The business organizations try to make Christmas memorable and affordable. They put their goods on sale so that customers can afford them. That's why the competition is high. You have choices to buy from Macy's, Sears, JC Penny, K&G, or online at Amazon, EBay, etc. Clothes are on sale. Electronic gadgets, beverages, technology, etc. Every business wants to retain its customers, and customers want to save and be happy at Christmas. In the same way, I want you to recognize that things are on sale with regard to your faith. The Church makes confessions and the sacraments also affordable and available through your priests. The church wants you to be happy and enjoy a spirit-filled Christmas. We make ourselves available to you at no cost. So Fr. Vin is "on sale" in a positive and healthy way for those who want confession. Call me and have your sins forgiven. Fr. Lou is "on sale". Call him. Fr. Godswill, Fr. Chris, Fr. Anthony, all of us are "on sale" in a good and healthy manner. We're completely free of charge. We are not expensive at all. We want you to have a great time with the Lord. He wants you to be his host at Christmas. On your own part, you must therefore stay awake.