3rd Simbang Gabi – December 18: The Annunciation of Joseph

St-Joseph

Welcome to the third Simbang Gabi, or as I have called it at the start of the Simbang Gabi, these nine days novena masses are a Christmas academy. In this academy,  we shall go back to the original Christmas story and discover the true meaning of Christmas so as to prepare ourselves for the birth of Jesus into our lives and our world.

The Christmas story has plenty of annunciation stories. Annunciation is the story of God choosing certain people, usually ordinary, uninfluential and poor. They were chosen since their birth to participate in Missio Dei, God’s mission. Annunciation is God’s story of breaking the good news to chosen people about Missio Dei, God’s plan and dream for humanity and the whole cosmos.

All of us have our own annunciation story. For each of us were chosen by God for a mission in this world. No one is born in this world without a purpose, a mission and a calling. Like the characters in the Christmas story, our deepest calling is to participate in the Missio Dei. Through the inspiration of the characters that we will encounter during these Simbang Gabi, may we discover our true calling that comes from God.

The most famous annunciation story of all time is that of Mary which we will read in the gospel of the 5th Simbang Gabi. In the gospel today, we will hear the annunciation story of Joseph.

Like Mary’s story, Joseph’s story is vital to the Christmas story.  Without Joseph’s cooperation, our Christmas story will be incomplete.

So what can we learn from Joseph’s annunciation story?

We don’t hear much about St. Joseph in the Bible. He is simply described as the “husband of Mary,” a “carpenter,” and a “just man” in the Gospel accounts. Neither his age nor his death is ever mentioned in scripture.

Joseph is the silent character in the bible, never said a word, but always did the right thing.  As they say, a man of few words.  Joseph was the perfect example of the saying: Action speaks louder than words.

Joseph was a true gentleman. A true gentleman never leaves his woman. I know of men who so love their woman.  But when their woman got pregnant, suddenly the big burden of responsibility dawned upon them, they become terribly scared and pathetically, abandon their woman.

Joseph became terribly scared and confused too but he never abandoned Mary. Joseph was faced with a horrific dilemma. He discovered that Mary to whom he is already betrothed but with whom he has not consummated their relationship in marriage, is already pregnant. There could be only one explanation; she had been unfaithful and was having another man’s child. It was a very serious matter and, if brought out into the open, would have made Mary liable to death by stoning.

As a righteous man and devout follower of the Mosaic Law, he would want to break the union with someone who had seriously broken the Law. And yet, because he was such a good man, he did not want to expose Mary to a terrible punishment. Few men would accept such a situation with such calmness and self-restraint. Most would find it a terrible blow to their manhood.

It is at this point that God announced to Joseph the true situation of Mary.  God assured Joseph that no other man is involved, that she has conceived through the power of God’s Spirit. Joseph, without saying a word, accepted God’s explanation. More importantly, Joseph accepted God’s invitation to enter into the Missio Dei and become part of the dream and mission of God for humanity.

Joseph was a dreamer. Joseph had big dreams for himself and Mary.  But when Mary and God’s dream intertwined with his own dream, Joseph did not allow his own dreams to prevail over and above the dream of Mary and the dream of God for him. Joseph the dreamer, found a way to integrate his own dream with God’s dream and Mary’s dream.

What is your dream? How do you see your dream a part of God’s bigger dream for you and for the whole world?

Joseph was the faithful husband and father.  He obeyed the angel’s advice to go to Egypt when Herod decided to kill all newborn male babies in Israel.  And he raised the boy child Jesus through hard work and dedication.

Joseph’s story is that he was able to go beyond his own world. He understood the meaning of his life beyond himself.  He was able to transcend his own needs, his own desires, his own ambitions and connect them with the greater mission that God has in store for him.  And because of this he became great.  If Joseph left Mary and decided not to fulfil the invitation of the angel, he is forgotten forever.

We are called to be the new Joseph’s in our times today.  God is inviting us out of our own small world in order to engage and connect with others for a greater purpose other than our own ambitions, plans and desires.  Like Joseph may we see our lives in the greater interconnection of our lives with the life of God through the incarnation of Jesus.  Lock in our own world we can achieve little.  But connected with each other and with God we can do great things.

As we come closer to the birthday of Jesus, let us be like Joseph in welcoming the birth of Jesus in our lives, in our world!

The Christmas story continues … Abangan ang susunod na kabanata, bukas! (watch out for the next chapter tomorrow).

 

Here is the schedule of Simbang Gabi at the Baclaran Shrine (Philippine Time). All Simbang Gabi masses at the shrine, both evening and early morning, are streamed live. Click this link to watch and listen to the Simbang Gabi at the shrine.

simbang-gabi-2018

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2nd Simbang Gabi – December 17: God Entered the Human Race

panunuluyan

Welcome to the second Simbang Gabi, or as I have called it at the start of the Simbang Gabi, these nine days novena masses are a Christmas academy. In this academy,  we shall go back to the original Christmas story and discover the true meaning of Christmas so as to prepare ourselves for the birth of Jesus into our lives and our world.

I remember an incident when I joined the Redemptorist mission at Sawanga, Bacon, Sorsogon in 1981. It was the Christmas break during my second year at the seminary. The mission was spearheaded by Fr. Manny Thomas, CSsR. We were there to give missions as well as to celebrate the Simbang Gabi with the people. As soon as we arrived in the barrio and introduced ourselves, some people were asking me whether I have relatives in the barrio. I told them, not that I am aware of. They told me that there are a number of families in the barrio with my family name, Echano, so they surmised they are my relatives.

I have almost forgotten this experience until, years after, I attended a special gathering of my relatives from my father side, the Echano’s. During conversations, I heard that my great, great grandfather spend some time in Sorsogon and other places for work. The line of conversation went as far as to suggest that during this time, my great great grandfather may have had some liaison with some local women in the area. It may not be farfetch to think that these affairs may have borne fruit. Upon hearing this, I suddenly remembered my experience in the mission in Sorsogon.

I must confess, I felt amused to hear that I may have had a charmer great, great grandfather. It is, indeed, interesting what one can discover in going back to his/her own ancestry. One can find interesting and fascinating details about the lives and background of one’s ancestors.

Try researching your own ancestry. I’m sure you will find colorful characters among your ancestors. Many of them, maybe both sinner and saint, tried to live life to the fullest given their strengths and weaknesses and the particular circumstances they found themselves in. Your ancestors’ character will also give you a greater understanding of who you truly are.

In today’s 2nd Simbang Gabi, in the opening of the gospel from Matthew, we hear of the ancestry or genealogy of Jesus.  It is introduced with the words: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”

This may be one of the dullest Gospel readings of the year. It consists of a long list of names, God knows, I could not even pronounce all of them correctly.  This can even be a good exercise for tongue twister. Seriously, many of them doesn’t ring a bell to most Christians. But they are interesting characters, if we could only find the time to examine each of them.

Interestingly, there are four women mentioned – Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Mary.  What Matthew had done by including them in the list is a big, big ‘no’ for the Jews in the sense that most of them, if not all, were sinners and foreigners because they all bore sons out of questionable union or wedlock. For example, Tamar, who got married to the two sons of Judah and herself was impregnated by her father-in-law; Rahab was a Canaanite harlot; Ruth, a Moabite woman and therefore a foreigner; Bathsheba, the mother of King Solomon with whom King David committed adultery;

There are also a number of scoundrels in the list. Even David, one of the most outstanding servants of God, was an adulterer and a murderer (apart from those he killed in war).

By including sinners and weak human characters is exactly the point of the gospel: Jesus fully entered our human condition, with all its virtues and vices. When the Son of God became a human being, indeed, he became one of us. The Gospel makes no effort to “sanitise” his origins, or the members of his immediate family. There is no shortage of skeletons in Jesus’ cupboard.

The incarnation of Jesus–Jesus, Son of God, becoming one of us–implies that God intended to become part of our human history and lineage. God immersed into everything of our human experience, even the messiest, the muddiest and the sinfulness of our humanity. This is so comforting especially for many of us experiencing great vulnerability and weaknesses. This gives us a lot of hope and the courage to persist because despite our frailties, God will not judge us, instead, he will give us thousands of chances and will continue to believe in the goodness that lies underneath our faults and failures.

Saint Athanasius, the renowned fourth-century bishop of Alexandria and the greatest apologetic of the doctrine of God as the Trinity, in his classic work, Incarnation of the Word, said that the incarnation of Christ occurred not just in order for God to become human but also for human to become God,

“For He was made man that we might be made God; and He manifested Himself by a body that we might receive the idea of the unseen Father; and He endured the insolence of men that we might inherit immortality. For while He Himself was in no way injured, being impossible and incorruptible and very Word and God, men who were suffering, and for whose sakes He endured all this, He maintained and preserved in His own impossibility.”

The Christmas story continues … Abangan ang susunod na kabanata, bukas! (watch out for the next chapter tomorrow).

 

Here is the schedule of Simbang Gabi at the Baclaran Shrine (Philippine Time). All Simbang Gabi masses at the shrine, both evening and early morning, are streamed live. Click this link to watch and listen to the Simbang Gabi at the shrine.

simbang-gabi-2018

3RD SUNDAY OF ADVENT: THE REAL JOY OF CHRISTMAS

christmas-joy

Christmas is the season of joy. It is about the joy of the coming of the Lord among us. As in one of my most well-loved Christmas Carols, Joy to the World!

Joy to the world, the Lord is come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room
And Heaven and nature sing

The readings for this 3rd Sunday of Advent are all about joy. St. Paul in the Second Reading commends the Philippians:

“Brothers and sisters: rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again, rejoice.”

The word for rejoice in Latin is gaudete. Thus, this Sunday is called Gaudete Sunday.

The Church boldly  exhort people on this Third Sunday of Advent, ready or not, to rejoice. The joy that the church exhort the people is not, however, cheap and superficial joy.  It is not an escapist joy that numbs us and forgets all about the pain and sorrow in this life. As the song of Redemptorist Fr. Oli Castor goes,

How can I possibly sing a joyous Christmas song
when there’s so many people who know not where they belong

The joy of Christmas is not the fleeting joy that serves as an escape from the sad reality of our lives, which sadly has been the scourge for many of our people come every Christmas. It is rather the profound joy borne out of God’s immersion into the messiest and muddiest experiences of our humanity.

The readings also speaks of joy but not the shallow and cheap joy. In the first reading, from the prophet Zephaniah, the part we read this Sunday comes from a hymn celebrating the survival of the faithful remnant, a passage that commentators judge was added after the Babylonian Captivity. It is sung, therefore, by a group that has passed through tough times. In the midst of those difficulties they have come to know the presence of God so vividly that they can picture that the Lord “will sing joyfully … as one sings at festivals.” How did they get to be rejoicing survivors? In an earlier chapter the prophet had said,

Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth,
who have observed his law;
Seek justice, seek humility;
perhaps you may be sheltered
on the day of the Lord’s anger (Zeph 2:3).

In the Second Reading, when Paul exhorts the Philippians to rejoice, he is in a captivity of his own, in Roman custody. Like others who have been able to deal prayerfully with the enforced solitude of incarceration, he is able to urge rejoicing on much the same basis as Zephaniah’s surviving Judahites: he has come to know the presence of the Lord. It is not wishful thinking but personal testimony that stands behind his pep talk:

Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

In the gospel, the crowds John encountered in the desert had, themselves, little reason for joy about the happenings in their lives during that time. Yet they share a joyous and hopeful expectation of the coming of the Messiah who will deliver them from their lethargy and gloom. The people in long rows, gathering to be baptized in the wilderness, was expecting the Savior who is to come. In this context of joyful expectation, John exhorts the people to take concrete small steps towards making changes in their lives and the actual situation. The work for a better world is preparation for the coming of Christ. It is also a sign that the coming of Christ is near.  Each segment (the crowd, the tax collectors, the soldiers) asked John the Baptist the question: “Teacher, what should we do?”

He said to them in reply,
“Whoever has two cloaks
should share with the person who has none.
And whoever has food should do likewise.”
Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him,
“Teacher, what should we do?”
He answered them,
“Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”
Soldiers also asked him,
“And what is it that we should do?”
He told them,
“Do not practice extortion,
do not falsely accuse anyone,
and be satisfied with your wages.”

Rita Ferrone notes that Pope Francis echoed this passage in his address to 2014 Collegeville Conference on Liturgy, Music, and the Arts:

The crowds asked Pope Francis, “What then should we do?” To the pastors he said “Get out of the sacristy! Go and be with your people; smell like your sheep!” To the wealthy nations he said, “Give up your trickle down economic theories! Address the injustices that hold the poor in bondage.” To the religious he said “Answer the questions of the CDF,* but don’t let their investigations dismay you. Continue in your ministry!” [1]

Christmas is a season of joy borne out of the coming of the Lord in our midst. The coming of the Lord is both exciting and demanding. Christmas joy is the Lord Jesus Christ walking with us as we take small and steady steps in reforming our lives and transforming the world we live in.

Before Christmas, what little change can we make within ourselves and in our family, workplace and community we belong?

 


 

[1] July 7, 2014, Rita Ferrone, Church Reform, Pope Francis

 

Simbang Gabi: Our Gift to Our Lord Jesus Christ

shrine_christmas

Tomorrow, December 16, the Philippine church begins the well-loved and enduring Filipino Christmas tradition called Simbang Gabi (Filipino for “night masses”). Simbáng Gabi is a devotional nine-day series of Masses practiced by Roman Catholics and  Aglipayans in the Philippines in preparation for the birth of Jesus Christ. The Simbáng Gabi Masses in the Philippines are held daily in all parishes, shrines and major chapels throughout the country from December 16–24 and occur at different times ranging from as early as 3 to 5 AM. Yes, that early!

In recent years, especially in urban areas where people find it difficult to attend the early morning masses because of their work, parishes celebrate evening masses of the Simbáng Gabi. This begins at the 15th of December and ends on the 23rd, (erroneously described as “anticipated Simbang gabi” since Vigil or anticipated Masses are only applicable for Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation). However, the propers and readings used for these Masses are those which are prescribed for the day.

White is the liturgical color for Masses celebrated within the context of these novena masses. Violet is used for any other Masses said during the day, as these are still considered part of the Advent season. Filipinos celebrate this Mass with great solemnity and the Gloria is sung.

The Simbang Gabi is the most important Filipino Christmas tradition. Simbang gabi is deeply rooted in the history and culture of the Filipinos.

The Simbang Gabi originated in the early days of Spanish rule over the Philippines as a practical compromise for farmers, who began work before sunrise to avoid the noonday heat out in the fields. It began in 1669. Priests began to say Mass in the early mornings instead of the evening novenas more common in the rest of the Hispanic world. [1]

After hearing Mass, Filipino families usually partake of the traditional Philippine Christmas delicacies,  either during breakfast at home or immediately outside the church, where they are sold. Vendors offer a wealth of native delicacies, including bibingka (rice flour and egg based cake, cooked using coals on top and under), puto bumbong (a purple sticky rice delicacy which is steamed in bamboo tubes, with brown sugar and coconut shavings as condiments), salabat (hot ginger tea) and tsokolate (thick Spanish cocoa).

Many Filipinos believe that if a devotee completed all nine days of the Simbáng Gabi, a request made as part of the novena may be granted. The danger of this, is again, it may lead us to focus on ourselves, which the celebration of Christmas in the secular world has all too often led us–with all the focus on material gifts, parties, and merry-making. The real focus of Simbang Gabi is supposedly, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ into our world. Thus, Simbang Gabi is, first and foremost, focused on how our lives can become gifts to Jesus Christ and for others, especially the poor and the needy. That is why in more recent years, the church has called Simbang Gabi more appropriately as Misa Aguinaldo (gift mass).

Indeed attending the Simbang Gabi is a sacrifice. We go out of our daily routine by waking up early in the morning especially in this cold season trying to complete the 9 days masses. It is a sacrifice made not just because of an obligation, nor because we have a petition nor because of a panata (promise) in exchange of a favour from God. It is a sacrifice made out of love, first and foremost, a gift to our Lord Jesus Christ who will be celebrating his birthday.

Simbang Gabi also marks the second part of Advent which focuses on the preparation for the birth of Jesus Christ. Up to the 16th December, the season of Advent is a period of preparation for the Second Coming of our Lord.  On December 17th, Advent changes gear, the focus is on preparing us to celebrate Christmas.

Thus, in these last eight days before Christmas, the relationship between the readings changes.  Each of these days, the first reading is taken from the Hebrew scriptures, and chosen to match the gospel.  The gospels are taken from the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke. The gospel brings us closer to the celebration of Christmas.  The sense of anticipation and fulfillment builds as we read the story of the preparation for Jesus’ first coming into this world for us.

In this light, Simbang Gabi is going back to the Christmas story, the original Christmas story.  By going back to the Christmas story, we will be introduced to characters that we might be hearing only at this time of the year like Manoah, Samson, Hannah, Samuel, Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah. We will see that the lives and stories of these characters will come together in Jesus Christ.  Each character will see the totality of their lives in God’s greater plan of God coming down to become one among us.  They are just supporting characters to the main character which is Jesus. The stories of these characters are not separate stories, each story is part of a larger story—the Jesus story; the story of the coming down of God and becoming one of us.  All these stories are slowly unfolding towards a climax—the birth of Jesus.

That is why I call Simbang Gabi a school or an academy that will teach us the real meaning and message of Christmas.  The daily lesson and insight of each Simbang Gabi will teach and help us how to become gift to our Lord Jesus Christ and to one another. In this way, Simbang Gabi is truly a most meaningful way of discovering and experiencing the meaning of Christmas.

The profound meaning and calling of Simbang Gabi is reflected in this year’s theme of the Simbang Gabi at the shrine: Sambayanang Namumuhay sa Pag-asa: Minamahal, May Lakas, May Handog ( A People Living in Hope: Beloved, Strong, Gifted).

Here is the schedule of Simbang Gabi at the Baclaran Shrine (Philippine Time). All Simbang Gabi masses at the shrine, both evening and early morning, are streamed live. Click this link to watch and listen to the Simbang Gabi at the shrine.

simbang-gabi-2018

 


 

[1] Roces, Alfredo (1 October 2009). Culture Shock! Philippines: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette. Marshall Cavendish Reference.

2ND SUNDAY OF ADVENT: JOHN THE BAPTIST, THE GRINCH AND SCROOGE

st-john-the-baptist-icon

Showing in theaters worldwide since last week is The Grinch. The Grinch, based on Dr. Seuss’ holiday classic tells the story of a cynical grump who goes on a mission to steal Christmas.  He especially hates the Christmas season, making particular note of how disturbing the various noises of Christmastime are to him, including the singing of Christmas carols.

Similar to the Grinch is another popular anti-Christmas figure named Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol. Scrooge is a cold-hearted miser who despises Christmas. Scrooge was also turned into a popular movie shown on Christmas several years ago. 

Ironically, despite their hatred of the season, Grinch and Scrooge give an important lesson for Christmas. The story of Grinch and Scrooge is about transformation. We love to see the spirit of Christmas bring out the best in people. One of the essential lessons of Christmas, indeed, is personal transformation.

The story of Grinch and Scrooge also try to show us a different side of Christmas beyond the predominantly commercial and materialistic celebration of the season. There is more to Christmas than all the gifts, material things, merry-making and shopping. Unfortunately, commercial and business establishment, have used these two characters by highlighting their grumpiness and greediness as the opposite of the spirit of the season which is supposedly generosity and gift-giving. Deriding the character of the Grinch and Scrooge, is indeed good for business, as it justifies the mad frenzy of shopping and accumulating material things in the guise of generosity and gift giving.

Interestingly, the Grinch and Scrooge, resemble some similarities to John the Baptist, the main character of the gospel in today’s second Sunday of Advent. Luke in the gospel today, presents John the Baptist as a kind of anti-establishment figure but showed the people the true way of preparing for the coming of the messiah. 

First, Luke, at the beginning of the gospel, gives a list of the powerful people in the world at that time:  

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, 
when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, 
and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee,
and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region
of Ituraea and Trachonitis, 
and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, 
during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, 
the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.

Luke’s enumeration of the famous figures during the time near the birth of Jesus was not just to serve a historical function but to employ sarcasm against these political figures. With so many powerful people around, we wonder why God chose John the Baptist, an eccentric and lowly person, to proclaim the coming of the Messiah. Indeed, God, as Mary proclaimed in the Magnificat, “has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the humble.”

Secondly,  Luke locates John’s preaching to the people, not in the center, that is, the temple in Jerusalem, but in the wilderness or the desert. Despite John proclaiming in the desert, which is an inconvenience to many people especially the rich and powerful, the people went into the desert. It was not John who went to Jerusalem, but it was the people who went to the desert to hear John. In the Bible, God leads people into the isolation and barrenness of the wilderness or desert in order to effect transformation.

Thirdly, John’s lifestyle represents a counter-symbol to his contemporaries. Jesus once said: “John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He has a demon” (Mt. 11:18). He was arrayed in a “camel’s hair” garment, secured by a leather belt, and his diet was locusts and wild honey (Mt. 3:4). His dietary fare was that generally consumed by the poorer elements of society. He stood in bold relief to the wealthy, indulgent Jews of his day. 

Finally, John the Baptist way in preparing the way for the coming of the Messiah is not through external force but internal transformation:

“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

He preached a “baptism of repentance,” a cleansing from the old ways of “greed and darkness” and a commitment to a new way of living. 

Following the cue of John the Baptist, the church has set aside Advent as a privileged moment of retreat, a kind of going into the desert, in preparation for Jesus birth.  Advent is a quiet time of joyful anticipation which stands in great contrast with our culture’s turbulent consumer-bonanza during Christmas season.

Advent as a time of joyful anticipation is reflected in the other readings today. The prophet Baruch, in the first reading, says, “take off your robe of mourning and misery,” for God is leading his people “with his mercy and justice for company.” God’s people “are wrapped in the cloak of justice from God,” and they “will be named by God forever the peace of justice.”

St. Paul, too, in the second reading, speaks of joyful anticipation, of waiting for “the day of Christ Jesus.” He encourages the Philippians to grow in “love, understanding, wealth of experience, clear conscience, and blameless conduct,” and he concludes with a wish: “that you may be found rich in the harvest of justice which Jesus Christ has ripened in you.”

Grinch and Scrooge like John the Baptist point to personal transformation as one of the essential challenges of the Christmas story. But Grinch and Scrooge missed out the elephant in the room while John the Baptist did not. Christmas is more than just sharing and giving of gifts to each other. Christmas is celebrating and receiving the greatest gift of all. John the Baptist showed us that Christmas, most important of all, is the joyful preparation and anticipation of the coming of Jesus in our lives which calls for all of us a baptism of repentance.

1ST SUNDAY OF ADVENT: SALVATION IS NOW!

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HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone!

Perhaps you think I am getting confused about time. This is not January 1 nor is it the lunar new year or the beginning of the Muslim year. But this is the beginning of a new year for the Catholic Church.

Last week we celebrated the Feast of Christ the King and the last Sunday of the outgoing Church year. Today is the First Sunday in Advent and the beginning of a new Church year. It is also the beginning of a new cycle of prayers and Scripture readings, Cycle C.

Advent comes from the Latin adventus which is a translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ. The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming. This is reflected in our readings for this first Sunday of Advent.

The First Reading and the Gospel both talk about a time when the Lord comes—for justice. The First Reading from the prophet Jeremiah proclaims;

In those days Judah shall be safe 
and Jerusalem shall dwell secure; 
this is what they shall call her: 
“The LORD our justice.”

In the Gospel, Jesus warns people not to be overcome with the pleasures and anxieties of the world but to be ready for his coming. In his second coming Jesus will set things right, and ransom those who “can stand up straight and stand secure before the Son of Man. 

Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy 
from carousing and drunkenness 
and the anxieties of daily life, 
and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.
For that day will assault everyone
who lives on the face of the earth.
Be vigilant at all times 
and pray that you have the strength 
to escape the tribulations that are imminent 
and to stand before the Son of Man.h.

In order that we may be ready for Christ at his second coming, St. Paul in the Second Reading, exhorts us: 

Brothers and sisters:
May the Lord make you increase and abound in love
for one another and for all,
just as we have for you, 
so as to strengthen your hearts, 
to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father 
at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. Amen.

The texts for this first Sunday of Advent are warning about the end of the world inasmuch as they are commentaries on living in the present. Jesus’ words are a wake-up call telling us to be present in any given moment and being decisive about the present. Since we do not know the hour or the day, let this be the hour, let this be the day, let this be the time that we live and die. This day, this moment, this life, is the time to bear fruit. Thus, the essence of Advent spirit is readiness for action: watchfulness for every opening, and willingness to risk everything for freedom and a new beginning.  We should all work and capture every opportunity for the elimination of disease, poverty, injustice and death itself although this will only be fully realized at the second coming of Jesus Christ.  

An appropriate phrase that captures the Advent spirit is carpe diem. Carpe diem is a Latin aphorism, usually translated “seize the day”, taken from book 1 of the Roman poet Horace’s work Odes, written 23 years before Christ. The phrase is part of the longer carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero, which can be translated as “Seize the day, put very little trust in tomorrow (the future)”. The ode says that the future is unforeseen and that one should not leave to chance future happenings, but rather one should do all one can today to make one’s future better.  [1]

In our world today we see a lot of suffering and disease, injustice, poverty and war.  Our nation is in darkness, we are in a crisis.  The temptation is to sulk into the present and linger in our frustrations, anger, despair, anxieties.  Worst is to be passive and thus justify the greed, lust, pride around us.  So we no longer condemn the evil around us and no longer appreciate the beauty and blessings around us.  We no longer hope, no longer wait, no longer expect. We’ve stop living and dreaming.   

Advent seeks to awaken us from our weakening spirit, passive attitude and fatalistic mindset. Advent seeks to instills in us defiant hope, transformative attitude and patient confidence in God’s action. Advent reminds us that we can look forward from our darkness to the fact that God’s Light will always overcome the darkness of the world (Isaiah 9, 1 – 7).  We just have to learn how to wait for God’s grace, long for Jesus’ power and actively prepare for the coming of the Kingdom of the Messiah.

 


 

[1] Carpe Diem, Wikipedia, accessed 1/12/2018 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carpe_diem