01 December 2012

ARE WE MISSING ADVENT?


1st Sunday of Advent
Lk 21:25-28, 34-36 (Jer 33:14-16 / Ps 24 / 1 Thes 3:12-4:2)

It is Advent.  But for many, it seems it is Christmas already!  When I was a child, we would go through Advent religiously.  Today, most people jump from All Souls Day to the Christmas season.  Apparently, here in the Philippines, Christmas is not only the longest; every year, it also gets longer (and we even take pride in it!).  Too sad and alarming, our young people grow up forgetting the meaning and value of the Advent season.

Advent teaches us to wait.  And that lesson is indeed very important, for there is nothing in life for which we do not wait. There is no life without waiting.  All of us had to wait to be born, to be nourished, to be loved, to grow, to know, to love.  Fullness of life is not available to us like instant coffee, for there is more to life and to people than we can ever deal with at any given time.  We must wait.  More often than not, to tamper with the needed waiting is also dangerous, bringing the impatient to a catastrophic end.

It is hope that funds our waiting.  A wife waits for her husband as the sun sets, hoping that after a day’s work he would still come home to her familiar, comforting and caring arms.  Families wait at the airport, hoping that they would be complete again at the return of their loved ones.  Parents wait for their prodigal children to come home, hoping they could be reconciled soon and make their house a home again.  Elderly people sit in nursing institutions, waiting for visits on weekends, for they hope that they are still remembered and loved by those whom they cared for and did not forget in their younger years.  Engaged lovers wait for their wedding day and married couples wait for their every child, all hoping to build a family as warm as if not warmer than that from which they came.  Even a child in the womb waits for nine months, hoping that it would have a birthday someday.  All of them wait, and so do we.  And our waiting tests the quality of our hope.  We are simply powerless to bring about what we hope for: all we can do is wait.

Advent tells us that we also need to wait for God.  Because God is beyond our grasp, we cannot possess Him, we cannot hurry Him up, we cannot control, much less manipulate Him, what we can only do is to let God reveal Himself to us.  We need to recognize God’s freedom in bringing about His wonderful plans for us and for all creation.  We wait for God, with the hope that He would come to us, manifest Himself to us, speak to us, and work for our good.  There is really something very deeply moving about this view on Advent: when we wait for God, we acknowledge our own incompleteness.  When we wait for God, we are actually telling Him, “O God, I am incomplete without Thee.”  With hearts filled with expectant hope in God, our waiting in itself becomes a very deep prayer that testifies to the poverty of our humanity and the wealth of God’s divinity.

With this unwavering hope in our hearts, Advent makes us remember and welcome.

We remember God’s fidelity to us.  In the first reading today, from the book of the Prophet Jeremiah, the Lord proclaims His faithfulness to His people: “The days are coming when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah.”  From where we stand now in the long history of salvation, we already know the wondrous things that God did to set His people free not only from the Egyptians but from all their enemies as well.  God was always there, intervening in the history of Israel, from Egypt to Babylon, and even unto the age of the Roman colonial rule and beyond, helping them through all their trials and leading them out of their miseries.  Despite their infidelity to their covenant with God, God remained faithful to His promises to the Israelites.  He was loyal to them though they were not loyal to Him.  Isn’t this our experience, too?  God never leaves us and continues loving us even when we leave Him and stop loving Him.  Is He not always faithful to us?  Does He not make a way for us even where there is no way?  By our personal and communal experience, we can very well testify to the truth of words of St. Paul in his letter to the Romans: “…in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).

Advent should be a time for us to sharpen our memories of God’s fidelity to us.  Advent should train our hearts, more than our minds, to remember God not only more but better.  And we remember God better when we keep alive in our hearts His loyalty to us.  This does not only help us become grateful to God – which we should always be – but also strengthens our faith in Him when most needed.

But Advent is not merely remembering; it is also welcoming.  We remember and so we can receive again.

God’s fidelity to His people culminates in the coming of Christ Jesus, His Son, who, by His blood, has made us, non-Jews, be counted among His chosen ones.  In the incarnation of Jesus, God’s faithfulness ceased to remain a mere name for one of God’s qualities.  Jesus Himself is the God’s fidelity to humankind.  In and through Jesus, God continues setting people free – not only from human and material oppression but, most importantly, from the tyranny of sin and death.  Jesus is God fulfilling His promise not only to house of Israel and Judah but to all of creation.

As Jesus already came to us when He was born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, so do we commemorate His birth come every 25th of December.  We prepare our selves to welcome this holy day as we observe Advent.  We cannot prepare less to celebrate the birthday of God’s very Son worthily.  Through the liturgy, we, as it were, welcome Jesus again every Christmas day, hopefully, in a better fashion this time than two thousand years ago.

But Jesus promised to come again.  On a number of occasions during His ministry Jesus made clear His second coming.  In Mt 16:27, for example, He declares, “For the Son of Man is going to return in His Father's glory with His angels, and then He will reward each person according to what he has done.”  In Jn 14:1-3, Jesus also says: “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in Me.  In my Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am.”  And in the Gospel today, Jesus does not only affirm His return as our Redeemer but also as our very Redemption Himself (Cf. Lk 21:28).  Clearly, this same Jesus, whose birth we welcome every Christmas day, we shall also welcome in person not only when He returns at the end of time but when our individual time on earth comes to an end.  Thus, in our second reading today, St. Paul prays for the brethren in Thessalonica that they “increase and abound in love for one another and for all” so that their hearts may be strong and their lives be holy, for such is the only conduct with which to welcome the Lord Jesus when He comes again.  Advent, thus, is not only a remedy to our forgetfulness of God’s faithful love to us, but should also be a period of intense training in love for one another.  Advent can already be us welcoming Jesus by loving Him in one another.  We should never wait for Christmas day to give love.  We should love already now.  Sadly, with all the rushing to Christmas that we see around us, much is actually about shopping, decorating, and planning, and much remains to be desired in actual, concrete, and selfless loving.

Advent teaches us to wait for, to hope in, and to trust in God, as we remember His fidelity and welcome Jesus by loving Him in every person we meet in this life.  These lessons, we all need to learn and re-learn every so often.  And in a world where a culture of impatience, hopelessness, distrust, infidelity, hatred, and indifference stubbornly insists itself into existence, our young are the first victims if we were to take Advent for granted.

I may sound bias to many, but I do believe that Philippines is indeed the place to be when Christmas comes.  No one will miss Christmas in the Philippines.  But are we missing Advent?  I hope not (that is an Advent statement)!

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