First Sunday of Advent
Readings: 1st- Is. 2:1-5; 2nd- 13:11-14; Gospel- Matt. 24:37-44
Stay Awake: Can this just be another advent for you?
Here comes another advent! What difference does it make? Maybe, just that this is 2019. Is that how it feels? It is just another year, and perhaps a different feel. That can be true if we don’t pay attention to the message of the Scriptures if we don’t understand the uniqueness of the opportunity that Christ gives to us. It can feel that way if we focus on the celebrations of the festive period only. We busy ourselves with how much shopping we are to do, how tall our Christmas trees would be, how much lighting to have inside and around the house, how many gifts we are going to wrap, and how much cooking we are going to do. There could be a lot more. Hence, it is possible to celebrate Christmas without advent. What is the difference? Advent is the process while Christmas is the content.
Think about it this way- cooking in your house and eating out aren’t the same thing. It might be exciting to eat out but you don’t always get your choice/favorite taste. When you cook in your house, you pay attention to the ingredients or the recipe you are using. When you eat out, you eat what you’re presented with. The waitresses in the restaurant presents the menu and you make your choice. Sometimes, you end up receiving what isn’t very pleasing and tasteful to you. Yet, you have to eat it and say the food is very delicious. You are not part of the process. You are not part of the preparation, so you can’t control what is used in the cooking. You consume the content.
The readings of today tell us about being part of the process of the coming of Christ; stay awake! Staying awake means being part of the process both physically and spiritually. It is an invitation to climb the mountain of the Lord as echoed by the prophet Isaiah. This mountain is established as the highest of the mountains with everyone streaming to it. It is a mountain requiring strength and vigor. Those who walk on the Lord’s mountain convert their weapons of war into tools of witnessing for God, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks.” Nations will cease fighting against another with everyone concentrating on the mountain of the Lord. God’s people will simply walk in the light of the gospel.
Saint Paul reminds us about the uniqueness of our salvation story by using a paradox of night and day. The night is ordinarily a time for sleeping and relaxing. It represents some form of laziness and in some cases, a time of carrying out negative and evil activities. Saint Paul uses the image of the night to invite Christians to an awakening from their spiritual slumber. That the night is far gone, and the day at hand points to what theologians refer to as the “already and the not yet of our salvation.” We are part of the dawn brought about by the death and resurrection of Christ. We belong to the day, not to the night. While living in this Light of Christ, we are still waiting for his second coming which is uncertain. Paul invites us to throw off everything that belongs to the darkness and put on the armor of light. He states, “let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy” (Rom. 13:13). Only then can we put on Christ who himself is the Light of the world, the Light of love, joy and peace.
Christ says, “Therefore, stay awake.” “So, too, you must be prepared.” The people of Noah’s time failed to recognize that. They were taken unawares by the flood. They kept themselves engaged with eating and drinking, with partying and merriments. Christ warns us that it can still happen in our time if we don’t pay attention to the gospel. It does not matter whom we are connected to -husband or wife, friend or relative, colleague or boss. What matters is only how we conduct our lives in relation to our spiritual good. The relevance of advent is, therefore, an opportunity to stay awake, to be prepared for the coming of the Messiah. While we get physically and materially ready for the Christmas, we also need to get spiritually ready. How do we get prepared? I will suggest some ways for you:
- Have you ever considered attending a retreat during the advent? Advent has four weeks in it. It is possible to attend a retreat with your family, just one retreat. Maybe, a retreat will cost you some money because you must pay for it. Can you set aside a day of spiritual recollection in your house? Just a few hours of prayer. I can give you some schedule to do it if you want. Call me and we’ll work it out.
- Have you ever considered reading the Scriptures as a family? Think about a Bible sharing twice every week for the four weeks of advent? You might take one of the gospels or the Psalms as your focus. That might help your family members to deepen your knowledge about the mystery of the incarnation, life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. In the end, you might have some questions that you would want to ask. Feel free to contact a priest or someone who might help you and talk about it.
- Have you ever considered volunteering for some charity? Maybe you’ve been so busy with work and family schedules that you don’t have the time to do something out of your busy schedule. Look for some opportunity to volunteer during these four weeks. An opportunity to serve might be a way to deepen your commitment to the human course in view of Christmas.
- Make out time for confessions during this advent. Within these four weeks, get a priest and confess your sins. You might not have gone for a long time, it does not matter. Go to a priest, tell him that you’ve forgotten how to do it. I’m sure he will help you. Even if you think you don’t have mortal sin, go. Confess those little ones -bad thoughts, bad talks, bad looks, upsets on the road, flashes of anger at rough drivers, lateness to activities. There’s a lot of things we do on a daily basis. Do not be afraid. Go and be cleaner. Wear a new spiritual robe for Christmas.
- Have you ever set aside something specifically for charity to the poor? Can you dedicate one-tenth of your budget for Christmas shopping and do something for the poor. It might be winter clothing, socks, hat, or some other thing that might keep the man/woman in the streets warm. Give it to someone at the end of the advent. It would make a difference in a person’s life.
- Have you ever visited a homebound or someone in the hospital without knowing who the person was? Do you know the joy someone in the hospital bed feels by having someone walk in and say, “I just came around to support you during this time? I came to see how you’re doing, to tell you that you’re being thought of in a special way this time. Take courage, Jesus loves you.” Even if the person is not conscious, meeting with the family and offering some words of encouragement makes a huge difference. Do that within this advent. It might be something new.
Trying one of these might be the uniqueness of your 2019 advent. You need not do all, just one. Do it conscientiously, that means with the intention that it is part of your advent journey. It might not be easy as you start but it gets easier along the line. Let’s do something for the spirit, that’s the invitation from today’s readings at the beginning of advent. Saint Paul states, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval” (Rom. 14:17-18).
May God help us to stay awake at the coming of Christ.