26 November 2011

THE GREATEST OF GIFTS

1st Sunday of Advent
Mk 13:33-37

          We begin today the joyful and holy season of Advent.  We regard this season to be focused on an intense preparation for the Lord’s two-fold coming: at the end of time and in history when He was born on Christmas day.  The term “advent” came from the Latin word “adventus”; meaning, “a coming,” “approach”, “arrival”.  And because it is the Lord Jesus who is coming, we are admonished to prepare well.  Moreover, while His birth already happened, His coming at the end of time is yet to occur.  And because we do not know when that coming of His at the end of time will be, we are always reminded by the Church to be vigilant less the Lord finds us in deep slumber.
          But Advent is not only about preparation and vigilance.  It is first of all about hope.  For what reason do we have to prepare and keep watch when we do not hope for the coming we are preparing for and keeping watch about?  We prepare and keep watch precisely because we hope.  We wait for the Lord because we hope in the Lord.  And we are certain of our hope not because we already see the object of our hope but because the Lord, who gave us His word, is always worthy of our trust.  Advent is a celebration of our unwavering hope in the Lord.
          Hope funds our waiting.  A wife glances at the door, expecting her husband to come in, for she hopes that he would be home safe and sound.  A child waits at the airport, scanning the horizon for its father’s plane to touch down, for it hopes that its family would be complete this Christmas.  A father or a mother is always at the lookout, waiting for a prodigal child to come home soon, for any parent hopes children would never forget the unconditional love of the home.  An old man sits each day in a nursing home, waiting for a visit, for he hopes someone would be kind enough to pay him one.  A board exam taker prays, waiting for the results of the board exam, for he hopes he would pass it.  Young couples wait with growing expectation for the birth of their baby, for they hope they would be parents soon.  A fetus quietly waits for nine months in its mother’s womb, for it hopes it would have a birthday someday.  All of them wait; and so do we.  For them and for us, waiting tests the quality of our hope.  To tamper with the needed waiting is dangerous, bringing about catastrophic results.  Indeed, we are simply powerless to bring about what we hope for; all we can do is wait.
          There is no life without waiting.  We all had to wait to be born, to be nourished, to be loved.  The fullness of life is not available to us like an instant coffee, for there is more to life and to people than we can ever deal with at any one time.  We must wait.
          Advent tells us that we also need to wait for God.  God is beyond our grasp.  We cannot possess Him.  We cannot see Him.  We cannot hurry Him.  All we can do is to let God reveal Himself to us.  So, we can only wait for God, with the hope that He would come to us, manifest Himself to us, speak to us.  There is really something very deeply moving about this view on Advent: when we wait for God, we acknowledge our own incompleteness.  Waiting for God is humbly recognizing that there is always more to God than what we already know about Him and what we already experience in Him.  Rightly understood, Advent is us proclaiming our hope in a God we can never “have”.  And when we wait for God, with hearts filled with hope, our waiting becomes a prayer: we give witness to the poverty of our humanity and the greatness of His divinity.
          What characterizes this prayer that emanates from our waiting?  The readings on this first Sunday of Advent tell us.
The first reading gives us a glimpse of the difficulty people face when their waiting for God seems to be in vain.  The Israelites are finally free from the Babylonian captivity and are already back in their own homeland.  But Jerusalem has been reduced to ruins.  God’s silence does not help either; it is very deafening.  He seems to be too far beyond their reach.  However, they continue hoping in Him.  But God sends no signs at all to confirm their hope.  Understandably, the Israelites become weary with waiting, tired of hearing nothing from God.  All they can do now is to remember what God actually and already did for them in the past, most especially in the Exodus story.  And when they remember God as their Redeemer they bring the past into the present, they re-live God’s fidelity to His covenant with them.  Through remembering their hope is renewed and they continue to hold on to their relationship with God.  The memory of God’s faithful love for His people gives people a reason to wait because it builds up their hope.  Thus, remembering becomes sacred.  That sacred memory serves as a light for them in the midst of darkness.
Advent must be for us a season of remembering.  We have to remember to hope.  Our prayerful waiting should sharpen our memory of God’s fidelity to us that is manifested by the graces we receive from Him as Church and as individual disciples of His Son, Jesus.  As our waiting is funded by hope so is hope funded by our memory of God’s faithful love for us.
          The Apostle Paul gives us the second characteristic of the kind of prayer that should emanate from our waiting for the Lord.  In the second reading for today, St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, thanks God.  Please note that he thanks God for all the graces that others (in this case, the people of Corinth) received through Jesus Christ.  He is happy that they have been enriched in many ways, most especially in terms of witnessing to Christ and of having the gifts of the Spirit while they wait for the revelation of the Lord Jesus on the last day.  Then he ends his litany of thanks by proclaiming the fidelity of God.
          Advent is a special time for us to be grateful to God.  And the specialty our thanksgiving must come from our gratitude for the people around us.  We are happy that others (and not only our selves) are blest by God’s fidelity in many and varied ways.  We rejoice in the blessings of others and are not envious of them.  They are precisely the reason for us to say as St. Paul did, “I never cease thanking God for all the graces you have received through Jesus Christ.”
Finally, the Gospel for the first Sunday of Advent this year tells us that the kind of prayer that should emanate from our waiting for the Lord ought to be vigilant.  We know from salvation history that the hope of God’s people went not in vain; however, so many others failed to recognize the Redeemer they were waiting for when finally He came.
God answers cries of waiting and prayers of hope: “Jesus” is the name of His response.  Jesus is the very incarnation of God’s fidelity to His people who, though struggling, remain unwavering in their hope in Him.  It is, therefore, the regret of all our regrets if, like the Jews of His time, we fail to recognize Jesus when He comes to us be it at the end of time or even now in many and varied ways.  We ought, therefore, to be vigilant, watchful, and discerning of the signs of His coming to us.
          As we light the first candle in our Advent wreath, may our hearts light up as well with the hope that this holy and joyful season should renew in us and actually move us to share with others.  Let us light not only the candles in the wreath; let us light one another’s life with the fire of hope that funds our waiting for the Lord, the kind of hope that only the person who never forgets how faithful God is, who can be grateful for the blessings of others, and who is ever-vigilant in the ways of the Lord.
          As long as there is Christmas I truly do believe that hope is the greatest of gifts we’ll receive.

1 Comments:

At 9:17 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

fr. bob, may the good Lord continue to inspire you just as you continue inspiring us with your profound sermons. Thank you.

 

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