Advent-Bible Reading for the First Sunday of Advent: Mark 13:33-37
GUIDINGLIGHT - Rev. Fr. Benjamin Sim, S.J. (The Freeman) - November 30, 2014 - 12:00am

Today we begin the important Season of Advent. It is the time from the fourth  Sunday  before Christmas to  December 24. Advent means “coming.” The deepening darkness of the season can remind us that one day our earthly lives will end  and so will the world. But Christ is coming to bring creation to a new birth.

Advent is the season of waiting for this new birth. With the prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist,

we muster the strength to struggle against injustice. With expectant Mary we await the holy birth.

The Church Year begins with Advent, in which we re-live the longing of the Chosen People, the Israelites, waiting for the Promised Messiah. Advent is a Season of Hope and Waiting. The Advent Wreath and candles symbolize this. The evergreen is the symbol of life, of hope, of growth, because God Himself is coming, to save.

For four weeks we shall re-live the spirit of anxious waiting – the faithful of Israel waiting, Mary waiting, John the Baptist waiting, and our own waiting – with this difference: We know that hope has come.

First, we go back more that 2,500 years in history. We see Jerusalem and its temple in ruins; thousands of inhabitants  have been deported as slaves  to Babylon. They must live amidst false gods, politically helpless. Still they kept their faith alive, their hope and their identity, their consciousness of their continuity… God was coming.

500 years later,  God did just that, and the people returned. But what did they return to – brothers and sisters had changed. They practiced pagan worship, and still there was no temple.

Even here Isaiah preaches hope. Life is discouraging, yes, but remember your hope lies not in inconstant men and women, but in God – Yahweh the ever faithful. So, confess your sins and proceed with confidence to the task at hand – a glorious future waits! Advent is an incredible hope: God Himself will come to save His people.

Advent also brings us back to a little town of Nazareth, where the teenage Mary too is waiting in hope, waiting for the Promised One  to come. But not like any other Jew, the salvation for which she is waiting is already nestling within her, a living fetus in her womb. Her hope  is simply that she will bring salvation to birth and offer him to you and me.

Our Advent liturgy brings us back to a prison cell in Palestine. We experience the expectation of John the Baptist. He too is living in hope, but the hope is mingled with confusion. He has heard about the deeds of the Jesus, but where is the fiery social reformer the prophets have led him to expect? The Jews still suffer under the yoke of Roman oppression; the poor still lie like the beggar Lazarus at the gate of the rich; sickness and death refuse to take an intermission.

Unsure, John sends his own disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you he-who-is-to-come, or do we have the wrong number?” Jesus opens John’s eyes, invites him to compare what he sees  and hears with the prophecy of Isaiah: “The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, lepers are made clean, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the poor have good news preached to them.” No need to look for another; hope is here. Hope is… Jesus.

This brings us to Advent today, over two millennia after the coming of the Promised One. What is Advent for us?

What is Advent in a world that seems so hopeless? What we read every day is news about oil price increases, transport fare increases, electric and water bill increases, spiraling prices, followed by labor and transportation strikes. Aside from these is news of corruption, political bickering, while rapes, robbery, kidnappings and murders,and other violence continue unabated; the proliferation of gambling, and drug abuse, and narco-politics with the drug money bringing us closer to the narco-state. Nature has its share of earthquakes, typhoons and floods.

What is Advent  to the poor in the areas ravaged by typhoons, under flood waters, evacuation centers, and slum areas? What is Advent to the victims of terrorist bombings and refugees of areas torn by wars and conflicts?

I don’t know any concrete answer. Fr. Tony de Mello  has a story about an old Chinese farmer, who had an old horse for tilling his fields. One day the horse escaped into the hills, and when the neighbors sympathized with the old farmer over his bad luck, the farmer replied, “Bad luck, good luck? Who knows?”

A week later the horse returned with a herd of wild horses from the hills. And this time the neighbors congratulated the old farmer on his good luck. His reply was “Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?”

Then when the farmer’s son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone thought this very bad luck. Not the farmer, whose only reaction was “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”

Some weeks later the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth  they found there. When they saw the farmer’s son with his broken leg, they let him off. Now was that Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?

What must we do in Advent? This I know – the answer is still Jesus  Christ, not the Christ in His glorious isolation, but the whole Christ, head and members… Unless we act, Advent will just be a remembering, a reminiscence of a thing of the past.

Today, we live in a culture of atheistic materialism and rugged individualism. The primary passion of most people today is money, pleasure, and  comfort. There is little concern for public or common good.Thoughtfulness, courtesy, public discipline, and respect for persons are now “endangered species.”

Our traffic chaos, our stinking public toilets and the garbage dumps that decorate our streets and canals are just some examples of the effects of such lack of public discipline.You provide a clean public toilet, people steal the tissue paper, throw cigarette butts and sanitary napkins into the toilet bowls. So the toilets are more often than not clogged and “out of order.” Would people do the same thing in their own homes? I wonder.We live in a  “kanya-kanya”  and an “I don’t care” culture. Get rich fast at the expense of others. What is Advent to us?

The writer Henri Nouwen describes hope or the fruit of hope this way: While optimism makes us live as if some things will go better for us, hope frees us from the need to predict the future and allows us to live in the present, with the deep trust that God will never leave us alone, but will fulfill the deepest desires of our heart.

Dear Sisters and Brothers, do you want to live Advent? Then be Advent.   Be a sign of hope to the hopeless. The Gospel warns us to be alert, to be on the watch for the Messiah. Don’t look for him in a Christmas manger. He left that more than two thousand years ago. He’s living today among the poor in the slums, the sick in the hospitals, among the people in prison, among the aged, and the lonely.

Think of alternative ways of celebrating Christmas. Instead of spending a lot of time shopping, and losing your temper in the frenzy crowd, try to be more thoughtful of the needs of others, foster more sense of public discipline in this chaotic world. Try to adopt some poor families to make them happy. Most of all, try to bring the people back to Christ – the sign of God’s love for us.

My dear friends, as we begin the new liturgical year, let us live Advent. Be Advent.

Let’s close with a prayer:

Jesus, give us your strength. For sometimes things get tough, and we want to quit.

Jesus, give us your love. For sometimes people reject us, and we are tempted to hate.

Jesus, give us your eyes. For sometimes life gets cloudy and dark, and we lose our way.

Jesus, give us yourself. Our hearts were made for you.

And they will not rest – until they rest in you. Amen.

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