Happy New Year everyone! Today we start our new liturgical calendar in the Church with the first of the four Sundays of Advent symbolized by the Advent wreath that would be blessed and lighted after the homily by the priest. Flowers are minimized at the altar and violet or deep blue is the motif while the Gloria is not sung except during the Simbang Gabi in joyful anticipation of Christmas. The word Advent is from the Latin adventus that referred to the coming or arrival of the Roman emperor known as Caesar. At the height of the Roman Empire (the Pax Romana), the emperor used to visit the different provinces under his rule and there would always be elaborate preparations because he was also considered as god by the Romans. With the fall of Rome, the Church eventually adopted that practice to prepare for the birth of the King of kings. And rightly so if we recall what Jesus told Pilate last Sunday at the Solemnity of Christ the King, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (Jn.18:37)
When we look at our liturgical calendar, we celebrate every day in the whole year the Kingship of Jesus Christ who is the presence of God among us. Though Advent has two aspects, beginning today until December 16 when our sights are focused on the Second Coming of Christ and from December 17 to 24 when we focus on His first coming more than 2000 years ago, we celebrate every day in our lives the presence of Jesus in us and among us. St. Bernard of Clairvaux beautifully said that between these two comings of Christ is His third coming in every present time. And that is what Advent is all about: the presence of God. Christmas is more than a date to be remembered but the Person of Jesus Christ. We can never experience His coming at the end of time nor His first Christmas if we do not dare to open ourselves to God, to His presence in every here and now.
“But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand. Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and anxieties of daily life, and that they 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.” (Lk.21:28, 34-36)
Like during the Sunday before Christ the King, our gospel for the first Sunday of Advent invites us to focus on the “end time” or eschaton, the days of fulfillment of God’s promise when Christ comes again which nobody knows when except the Father. Unlike in the movies and the other doomsday scenarios portrayed by some, the end of time should never be taken literally because it is a kind of writing called apocalyptic. Such portrayals should never be imagined as they merely try to evoke the very difficult trials and tribulations peoples would experience and have experienced in different periods of time that continue to this day. Are we not all still groaning in pain as St. Paul described from all the sufferings and hardships we go through today? But here lies the good news of Advent: it is during our moments of trials and sufferings when Jesus Christ comes! The more persecutions, the more hardships we go through, the more we need to pray hardest, to be vigilant, to stand erect and raise our heads because it is during those trying times when Jesus Christ comes, and in fact when He is with us.
This is the challenge of Advent: that we always dare to open ourselves to God’s presence through prayers and silence. Jeremiah said it well in the first reading, “The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah. In those days, in that time…” (Jer. 33:14,15) God is faithful to His promise and always comes to us, always with us. We need to be daring to open ourselves to His presence to meet Him in our prayers and in silence. To be daring in opening ourselves to God’s presence means being still with Him, “wasting” time with Him by daring to set aside too much social media and gadgets that waste our time and distract us of the more important things in life. On this first week of Advent, let us be daring in opening ourselves to God by doing something different, by being good and better Christians as St. Paul asked us in the second reading. If we fail to experience God during this Advent season, we would never experience Him in Christ coming on Christmas or any time. Be daring and be filled with God this week! AMEN. Fr. NicanorF. Lalog II, Parokya Ng San Juan Apostol At Ebanghelista, Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan
*Photo by the author, Manor House, Camp John Hay, December 2017.