1ST Week of Advent (Matt. 24: 37-44)
Rev. Fr. Benjamin Sim, Sj (The Philippine Star) - December 1, 2013 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines -  Today we begin a new liturgical year, year A.

Advent is a season that many people miss, because they are too busy celebrating Christmas already! Here in the Philippines, we begin hearing Christmas carols in "-ber" months! And by December 25th, many people think that Christmas is over. The "Merry Christmas" is replaced by "Happy New Year!"

Advent is also a confusing season. Advent literally means "Coming!" The question is – the coming of what? We were told in Matthew, "Keep your eyes open, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming." Most people expect to welcome the baby Jesus at midnight of December 24. Well, that's His first coming in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. You can't look forward to something that already happened. What you don't know is when the Lord will return in His glory.

John the Baptist cries out in the desert, "Prepare the way of the Lord." What way? Surely not the road Joseph and Mary took to Bethlehem. Surely not the outer space – a rocket ship for Judge Jesus at the end of the world. Or do you ready your soul for dying, because the Church warns us in Advent that "the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect?" Well, if you were not confused before, probably you are now. What are these four weeks before Christmas all about? This season of Advent has to do with the past, the present, and the future – yesterday, today, and tomorrow. 1) We remember. 2) We repent. 3) We rehearse.

First, we remember. On the night we now take for granted, the whole of history was turned upside down. Something happened that had never happened before, that would never happen again. Something beyond any human imagining, something that no one in his right mind would have predicted. God's own Son entered our world. Not an angel, not another prophet, but God's Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.

Not as we would have planned it: in the capital city of the Roman Empire, with all the majesty of a king, surrounded by imperial escorts and adored by millions.

He entered our world as we entered it: out of a young woman's body, after being in her womb for nine months. He entered the world in our human body. He entered the world in a forgotten corner of the earth, in a feeding trough for animals, with only one man and one woman to see.

We remember that night because when Jesus touched this earth with His flesh, life would never be the same again. That human birthday was a divine promise: In Christ Jesus, men and women need no longer be slaves to sin and Satan, evil is less powerful than good, each one of us can be one, one with one another, now and forever. In the repeated declaration of the early Church writers, "God became human to make us divine." He came to give us a share in God's own life; to make it possible for us to believe what is beyond belief, to hope against hope, to love as Jesus loved.

So then, if you want to prepare for Christmas, remember! For Christians, the type of remembering most exciting and most painful is remembering of the birth and death of Christ. Exciting because God was born and died for us; painful because it makes demands on us that would change our lives.

Secondly, in Advent we repent. Our memory of Christmas ought not to mean that we live in the past. To live in the past is to begin dying. The miracle of Christmas is that Jesus' birth was not a solitary historic event in the "little town of Bethlehem" it was a beginning. Christmas is now. These four weeks, we prepare for what already is, the present.

What do we mean? For all the thousands of "belens" in the Christmas scene that will decorate the homes and public places, with the angel at the tomb we must proclaim, "He is not here, for He is risen." Not simply to return to His Father in heaven. "If you love me," Jesus declared, "you will keep my word, and my Father will love you, and we will come to you and make our home with you." (John 14:23)

Jesus lay in the crib not for His own sake; he lay in a crib because He wanted to rest in us. "If you love me.…" Do you want to awaken on Christmas – murmuring with the apostle Peter, "Lord, you know that I love you." (John 21:17) Do you want to make sure that the first Christmas has been born in you?

Then your Advent must be a conversion. To convert means to turn: turn from something to someone. Concretely, to turn from self to Christ. Sometimes the turning is quite radical like that of the thief crucified with Jesus: "Jesus, remember me…." So it was for St. Augustine in a Milanese garden, his intellect captured by Christ, his will still prey to pleasure, his prayer still "Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet."

And then that remarkable moment when the words you just heard St. Paul address the Christians of Rome: "not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." (Rom.13:11-14)

Advent is a season to cut compromise out of my Catholicism, to stop being half-hearted about Church and religion, about morality and love, to face up to the frightening words spoken by the Lord God in the Book of Revelation to the bishop of the proud and wealthy city of Laodicea: "I know your works: You are neither cold or hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth." (Rev. 3: 15-16)

Advent is a time to clean up and readjust to re-assess our values in life, and get rid of the excess baggage, the baggage that keep us from being enthusiastic in our faith, hope and love, too sophisticated to love God with all my mind and heart, and all my soul and strength, too self-centered to love my brothers and sisters as much as I love myself.

Third, we rehearse. To rehearse is to go through privately what will take place more formally, publicly. People rehearse  play, a concert. Advent is a privileged time to rehearse for the final coming of Christ. He came to us first in our fragile flesh over2000 years ago; he comes to us now when we love him, when we receive him in Holy Communion, when we open our arms to the poor and the oppressed; he will come once more when time is about to end, when he will come to judge the living and the dead, when as Paul puts it, "he delivers the kingdom to God the Father." (1Cor. 15:24)

But how do you prepare for something as awesome, as unimaginable, as futuristic, as unpredictable, as science-fiction-like as the ultimate coming of Christ. Perhaps two little words may be of help – it is "as if." Live Advent as if Christ were coming in majesty this December.

How would I react if I receive text message from God the Father, which says: "Expect my Son on the 25th. Will come not in crib, but with trailing clouds of glory. This is the end. Repeat - This is the end. Prepare for his arrival. It'll be sheep at his right hand, goats at his left. No regrets accepted. Signed, Father"?

I suspect my Advent would be different. How about you?

There's a story about St. John Berchmans that once he was having recreation with some fellow Jesuit seminarians, when a question was asked: "If you knew that today is going to be your last day, what would you do?" One said, "I'll go to the chapel and pray." Another said, "I'll make a general confession." St. John said, "I'll continue my recreation. This is where God wants me to be."

It is rather, how Christ-like am I where I am, in what I do, with the people whose lives I touch? How do I handle the three main goals that all too many men and women submit to: money, power, popularity? How do I relate to the Christ crucified today - crucified in the poor and suffering people, the victims of calamities?

So then, a three-part program for Advent:

1. Contemplation: a long loving look at the past, at the Son of God born of a woman out of love for me.

2. Conversion: a turning to Christ today that is total - no longer lukewarm, tepid, indifferent type of Catholicism. With St. Paul we cry out, "Lord, what do you want me to do?"

3. Concern for tomorrow, for what I shall look like when Christ returns - a concern translates into looking like that now, inside myself, in the way I touch others, in my closeness to Christ.

We remember, we repent, we rehearse. A lifetime project, starting today, especially if you take Christ's words seriously, "You do not know on what day your Lord is coming."  (FREEMAN)

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