500 Years of Christianity Countdown

The Lord Is My Chef Advent Sunday-1B Recipe, 03 December 2017
Isaiah 63:16-17;64:2-7//1Corinthians 1:3-9//Mark 13:33-37

Liturgically speaking, Christmas happens late this year with December 25 exactly falling on the Monday right after the Fourth Sunday of Advent. In our country where Christmas is celebrated longest in the whole world, I have noticed yesterday in my three First Friday Masses how some people have mistaken the Advent Season had begun, putting on the violet altar cloth while the choir sang Advent hymns. Were they excited or simply unaware of the true meaning of Advent?

From the Latin word that means “coming” or “arrival”, Advent ushers in the new year in our Church calendar. It has a two-fold character: beginning today until December 16, our focus is set on the Second Coming of Jesus Christ which we do not know when; and, from December 17 to 24 when we shift our attention to the first Christmas more than 2000 years ago. Sad to say, Advent’s first character as a preparation for the Second Coming of Christ (parousia) is often ignored by most people due to the very tempting colors and sounds of Christmas. Our readings today teach us that if we would take into our hearts Advent’s first character of being watchful and alert for the Second Coming of Christ, our Christmas celebrations would be more meaningful because between these two comings is the third coming of Jesus in our daily life.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come… What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”(Mk.13:33,37)

Advent is a time for us all to look inside our selves. That is what is to be watchful and alert: to closely examine ourselves to see who we really are this past year. Have we matured, have we grown not only physically but also intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually? To be watchful means being on guard with the evil lurking deep within us; hence, Advent season is closely linked with Lent though the spirit of contrition is not much pronounced. But like in Lent, Advent invites us to look inside our hearts to see what’s occupying it, what’s filling it inside. Without Jesus in our hearts, there is no true Christmas at all in us, no matter how much we prolong its celebration in the calendar. Jesus cannot come in a heart filled not only with sins but also hardened by a refusal to forgive others or one’s self for past sins and mistakes. Jesus cannot come in a heart full of resentments in life, lacking with love and appreciation.

To look inside our hearts means to be filled with joy amid our many weaknesses and shortcomings because God is merciful. When we look inside ourselves, we lovingly pray like Isaiah in the first reading: “You, Lord, are our father, our redeemer you are named forever. Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not? Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage. Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you.”(Is.63:16-17) Pay attention not only to the very personal tone of this prayer but also to the word “redeemer” which is “go’el” in Hebrew, denoting someone who defends the interests of the poorest among a family or tribe. A “go’el” is a kin who pays the debts of another relative to keep a family property or the brother who marries wife of a deceased brother to keep posterity by fathering a child. A “go’el” is exactly “one of us” or akin to us who saves us from poverty and injustice – exactly who Jesus is, our only Redeemer who ransomed us from our debts of refusing to love God and others on the Cross by becoming human like us. Only when we look deep inside us can we appreciate and discover this great honor of having Jesus as “one of us”, a kin and a brother who brought us closer with God and with others in love and mercy. That is when Christmas happens even if it is not December 25!

When we are able to look meaningfully inside, that is when we are able to properly look outside too. Being watchful and alert is being more responsible in trying to bring about into a reality the kingdom of God’s peace, justice and joy. We look outside to see what else we can do to bring into fulfillment the coming of God’s kingdom here on earth. In the gospel today, Jesus tells us that His coming “is like a man travelling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to on the watch.”(Mk. 13:34) When we look inside our hearts, there we find our purpose and meaning in life; then, we also realize that we are given charged by God with a work and mission to fulfill by looking outside. In his encyclical “Laudato Si”, Pope Francis kept on hammering on his call to us all to change our lifestyle to truly save our environment. It is always easy to join advocacies and campaigns of all kinds in saving our planet but unless we are willing to change within can we truly change outside. Advent is the time for us to look outside in order to see Christ among others and in our world. If we can’t look outside in such a way, Christmas would always remain a festivity that come and go every year without any meaning at all.

Last but not least, Advent is a time to look beyond, to look towards eternity, to have a vision of God. St. Paul reminds us in the second reading how God bestowed and enriched us with every spiritual blessing for us to be “firm, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1Cor.1: 4,8) Looking beyond and seeing our final destiny in eternity is something deep inside us wherein we are certain that this life is passing, that there is something greater than what we have seen and heard and experienced in this life. These past four weeks, I have joined three homecomings: first with my UST batchmates in college last month, then with my brother priests from the major seminary last week, and with my high school seminary brods the other night. Then, yesterday I joined the pre-Christmas party of retired and sick priests from various parts of the country organized by Msgr. Sabino Vengco Jr. in Antipolo. These gatherings have given me with a sense of awe at how we are all meant to be with each other here and beyond. We gather here on earth amid our many joys and sorrows we have gone through and continue to go through in life. And when we look inside, outside and beyond our selves, the more we discover the value of every person we have met and known. Most of all, we also meet among them Jesus Christ who had come and will surely come again at the end of time. That is why we have to be watchful and alert – so that we could meet Christ in His third coming in our daily life between these two comings Advent is preparing us. Happy and blessed New Year!

Fr.Nicanor F. Lalog II,
Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista,
Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan 3022