Today we begin a new year in the Church calendar (cycle B). As with every liturgical year, we start with the season of Advent which prepares us for the celebration of Christmas.
While we remember the first coming of Christ on Christmas day, the Church wants us also to look forward to his second coming. Hence, our preparation is not only for the celebration of his birth two thousand years ago but also in hopeful expectation for his return at the end of time when he will take us with him into his glory.
You must have noticed that the Advent season is much like the Lenten season: the color of the priest’s vestments is violet, the Gloria is not sung on Sundays… This is because like Lent, the spirit of Advent is one of penance. Preparing for the coming of Jesus, whether the first or the second, entails making room for him. It ultimately means the emptying and denial of self; in a word, conversion.
Advent is a liturgical season rich in meaning and full of promise and grace, which unfortunately we miss, particularly us Filipinos.
We readily rush to celebrate Christmas even as early as in September without celebrating and living the spirit of Advent. Hence, our yearly celebration of Christmas easily turns into a series of parties and social events (and a commercial bonanza for business). In the end, Christmas comes and goes each year, leaving us not only tired and exhausted but empty of its true meaning and deprived of its inestimable gift.
Today’s first reading gives us an idea of the spirit of advent. The text is taken from the final section of the Book Isaiah and expresses the people’s intense longing for the salvation promised by God. Israel had just returned from their exile in Babylon but their present condition was far from their expectation aroused by the prophets earlier.
And so, the people prayed to God to “rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before [him],” so that all may see once more the awesome deeds he did in the past. They humbly recognized that their condition was of their own making. “We are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people, all our good deeds are like polluted rags…” But even in their sinfulness, they did not lose hope that they would be delivered from their guilt because “you, O Lord, are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.”
To enter into the spirit of advent is to enter into our need of a Savior, a need that, if left unanswered, renders us totally wasted and devastated. Such was the case of Israel who felt they “have all withered like leaves, and [their] guilt carried [them] away like the wind.” Hence, their desperate cry of plea for God to “rend the heavens and come down.”
At the same time, the spirit of advent is the spirit of sure hope that salvation will arrive. God himself will come to save because he is our Father. Even our conversion becomes the work of his own hands; he is the potter and we are the clay. Paul assures us of this in the second reading because of the grace bestowed on us in Christ who has enriched us in every way such that we are not lacking in any spiritual gift.
In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us to be ever watchful like the servants and the gatekeeper who await their master’s return. The parable refers to the second coming of Christ. Chances are, we may not live to see the day, but Jesus’ counsel is always valid. Wake up! Let us stay awake so that we can recognize the Lord when he comes, for he comes indeed more often than we expect. In fact, he is with us at all times. He is Emmanuel (God with us). Before returning to his Father, he promised that he would remain with us until the end of time. But, do we see him? Do we recognize him? In the scriptures, in the Eucharist, in the people around us, particularly the needy (gospel of last Sunday), in the events of daily life…?
One priest started his homily by giving his listeners a quiz. You are asleep and you dream you are being chased by a ferocious lion. You run as fast as you can but the lion overtakes you and is about to catch you. What do you do? Answer: Wake up!*