In Dead Poets Society, one of my most favorite films of the deceased American actor Robin Williams, Williams plays the unconventional professor John Keating. Keating delivers the words, “Carpe Diem” to his students on the first day of school at Welton Academy. Keating tells his students that one day, no matter what kinds of people they become as adults, they’re going to be “food for worms.” Because life is all-too short, students should make the most of their time on the earth. The best way to make the most of life is to be creative and original—to seize the day—and not simply to repeat one’s parents’ and grandparents’ lives. In other words, Keating’s goal as an educator is to teach his students to think for themselves, to explore their passions and live accordingly.
What are the most important things you want to do before you die? I am not referring to a bucket list like to skydive or climb the Himalayas which only the rich can afford. Perhaps, you can ask forgiveness from a loved one whom you have wronged, say I love you to a special person you have wanted to but didnt for a long time, reconcile with a long lost friend, follow your dreams and your passion. In other words, don’t just be a cliché, dont just be a statistic. Just do it now, seize the day!
This coming Sunday marks the beginning of a new year in the church with the celebration of the Advent season. Advent is about the profound mystery of the coming down of God into humanity. God became human and dwelt among us more than 2,000 years ago in Jesus Christ. Christ will come again at the end of time to finally establish God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Thus, Advent is the celebration of the coming of Christ in two parts, the first part expresses the exultant anticipation of the 2nd coming of Christ, which is celebrated in the first four Sundays of Advent. The 2nd part commemorates the joy of the 1st coming of Christ, which begins on December 17, 8 days before Christmas.
On this First Sunday of Advent, the readings are about the end times which will culminate the fulfilment of God’s glory. Although the readings today talks about the end times, the real message of the readings is to pay attention to the present, for it is in the present that God is always coming. It is in the present that we rehearse the fulfillment of God’s promises for the future. We live in the tension between the fullness of time in the end and the nitty gritty reality of the here and now. The end times is already here but not yet. Thus, in a nutshell, the challenge and the message of the readings is, seize the day!
The end times is not about destruction and annihilation but the jubilant expectation for what will God do to our present times. The Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth once protested that for many Christians today the last judgment had become a dire expectation of doom, whereas the New Testament Christians looked forward to “that day” with joy, waiting for and earnestly desiring the coming of the day of the Lord (2 Pet 3:12).
The New Testament writers expressed this mindset about the end times through the understanding of time as kairos. Kairos was used to mean “the appointed time in the purpose of God,” the time when God acts (for example in Mark 1:15: “The kairos is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand!”). Kairos was used 86 times in the New Testament to refer to an opportune time, a “moment” or a “season” such as “harvest time,” whereas chronos was used 54 times to refers to a specific amount of time, such as a day or an hour (e.g. Acts 13:18 and 27:9).
The call to seize the day is ubiquitous in our readings today. To seize the day is to see the wonders of God working in our daily lives along with our actions and efforts to build a better world. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah prophesied what the end times mean in terms of God’s wonders and human cooperation–there will be ample opportunity for peace building instead of the usual war strategy,
They shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
one nation shall not raise the sword against another,
nor shall they train for war again.
What a beautiful vision! People will be moved to turn instruments of war, like swords and spears, into implements of peace, like agricultural tools such as plowshares and pruning hooks. Imagine what the world will be when all the trillion of dollars spent on war every year would instead be used for building sustainable irrigation systems, more effective farming implements and better support for farmers. We would have a boom in food production and have a massive reduction in hunger and poverty.
In the second reading, St. Paul tells the Romans to seize the day now that God’s salvation is near:
You know the time;
it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.
For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed;
the night is advanced, the day is at hand.
Let us then throw off the works of darkness
and put on the armor of light;
let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day,
not in orgies and drunkenness,
not in promiscuity and lust,
not in rivalry and jealousy.
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ,
and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.
Pope Francis said the same thing in 2013, when he challenged the Atheneum students to shun the security of their lives and avoid complacency,
Please do not watch life go by from the balcony! Mingle where the challenges are calling you to help carry life and development forward, in the struggle over human dignity, in the fight against poverty, in the battle for values and in the many battles we encounter each day.
Vespers with Atheneum Students
Saturday, 30 November 2013
In the gospel, Jesus told his disciples and the people to seize the day by being vigilant and always prepared for the coming of the Lord in the present which offers many opportunities:
Therefore, stay awake!
For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.
Be sure of this: if the master of the house
had known the hour of night when the thief was coming,
he would have stayed awake
and not let his house be broken into.
So too, you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
Advent is a way of life. Advent is an attitude to make the most of the opportunities of the present. Advent is a new way of seeing God’s wonders in a world mired in violence, injustice, division and despair. Advent is to seize the day as we journey toward the fullness of Life to come.
What can you seize today?