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FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT A19

Advent ushers a new liturgical season, a new year for our church, a new way of looking at things, a preview of what lies ahead to see, time and again, from a different perspective huge windows of opportunities in which to anchor our lives. Advent interrupts the ordinary, helps us see life differently, consider it afresh amidst the busy holiday season. It is best described as a time of preparation for the birth of Christ. It means the arrival of a presence which brings the past to the present through commemoration for the future. Liturgy is subdued. Songs are mostly chanted. There’s no singing of Gloria until Christmas. With its dark purple motif, it calls us to refresh our weary hearts and souls and start anew, set simple and manageable goals, make priorities straight, dream big again, leave behind the past, awful or not, while remaining ebullient in our efforts to be faithful to Christ. As we look forward to Christmas with every intention to make it memorable to those we hold dear perhaps, many of us may have already been preoccupied with the same good-old thing associated with the holidays: parties to go, monies to spent, food to eat, perfect presents to buy, gifts to wrap, clothes to wear, stuff to décor, among others.

The 24th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew reminds us of the eschatological dimension of Advent that is, the impending second coming of Christ at the end-times (Parousia), a major religious question in the early church but nowadays, seldom brought up in the church, much less in the pulpit. Possibly, we stopped looking forward to it as we are mainly concerned with the here and now, at the present time, in our efforts to make both ends meet. However, whether we are aware or not, our weekly procession to the church for Sunday gathering sharing similar vision is a dress rehearsal for final judgment.

In a dramatic fashion, Jesus' words in the Gospel is clearly at odds with people's expectation on the First Sunday of Advent, "As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. In those days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away (Mt. 24:37-39).” Just when we keep our lives busy, engaged in the daily grind to  prepare for the rainy days, the specter of God's judgment comes along, crashing us down and sweeping us all away.

Further, he mentioned, "Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come" (Mt. 24: 40-42). At a time of feasting and merry-making in America, Jesus knows better than anyone else about what really matters in life, spells it out and gives us a heads- up on things to come. What's scary about this scenario is that the day will arrive while people are out in the field harvesting, grinding, driving, running errands, eating and drinking, in short, when people are engaged in normal, everyday activities. Those taken up are the ones who, despite the temptations and signs shown and revealed, remained undistracted, kept their focus intact and manifest their faith in Christ, while the others left behind did just the exact opposite. So, when is when? "Therefore, you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Mt. 24:44).” Sadly, no one knows. The day will come unexpectedly without prior notice. What are we supposed to do then? Let's get on with our jobs since doing so is necessary to survive in a tough society but we also need to constantly prepare for the unannounced arrival of that day.

Paul succinctly illustrated in his letter to the Romans 13: 11-14 that it is time to wake up and get dressed, time to put on, adopt and imitate Jesus divine brand and extraordinary lifestyle, time to lead a descent and remarkably transformed life, time to get rid of things that dull and intoxicate the senses, time to stop feeding the soul with garbage, time to put aside partying, drunkenness and outrageous behavior, quarreling and jealousy- the very things that scandalize unbelievers and fellows, as well, embarrass the community, hurt feelings and fracture relationships. Paul, with a piercing advice and a thrilling exhortation, summons us with a high level of urgency, to wake up from a mere sense of obligation to a free and joyful spirit of enthusiasm, cast out the dark side of our souls, avoid any encroachment of the devil, check our moral compass, and behave like a believer.

As I skimmed through the words of the Prophet Isaiah in the first reading, although this was written centuries ago, he seemed to know very well what’s happening in the American shores and the international community. He was visionary. On Thanksgiving weekend, he takes us up to a mountain and shares what he saw, "In days to come, the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills and all nations shall stream toward it" (Isa. 2:2). He tells us that time will come when people from different corners of the globe will be drawn to God, seek him, press toward him, and converge at a spiritual zone "that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths" (Isa. 2:3). He envisioned that God will judge the nations, help settle disputes, weapons laid down, threats cease and instead, turn them into instruments of love. For him, war, hatred and anger are our enemies and not peoples and nations. Isaiah invites us in this side of the world to look beyond, aim for a brighter and peaceful future and live accordingly "O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the world (Isa. 2:5).” Together as a community, we will ascend to the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, to meet our ancestors in faith, to give us instructions in righteous living, and to eagerly hear his message in a place where our shared unprocessed thoughts will be drawn into a unified whole. Although his vision doesn't even come close, we're asked, for the time being, to walk in God's light, make his presence felt, evident and compelling every step of the way. Amen. 

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