Sunday, 28 November 2010

1st Sunday of Advent Year A

There is a financial crisis affecting some Eurozone countries. These economies are not willing to bite the bullet of trimming their budget, suffer the consequences of their past excesses so that they can arrive at a stable future. Instead, some have sought to bail their way out of their mess. In a certain way, these crises reveal an inability or unwillingness to live in the present; to bite the bullet.

Today the 2nd Reading speaks of the present. Much like the economic crisis, this present to which we are called to is not unrelated to the past and the future. The 1st Reading points toward that future where we will truly worship God our Lord and be guided by His ways; a future that will see us walking in the light of God. The Gospel recalls an ignorant past; a past tainted by the sin of unpreparedness.

Thus, the 1st Sunday of Advent sets the tone for the present. It invites us to wake from our hypnotic slumber. The word hypnos simply means "sleep" in Greek. But, in English, it has taken the sense of “induced trance”. To be hypnotised means to be under the spell of someone or something. In the 2nd Reading, St Paul, in his concern for the present, exhorts the community to awake from their “hypnosis”—their sleep. What was understood literally as sleep in St Paul may now be understood for us as hypnosis.

What do I mean by hypnosis? In the context of living in the present, both the past and future can have a hypnotic grip on us. Firstly, when we are hypnotised by the past, we are caught in it. For example, people who re-live their past hurts are often trapped in the past. How many times have you quarrelled with your spouse, your friend or your colleague and resort to bringing up the past? “You did this”. Whilst there is justification that for some whom the past continues to repeat itself, for example, a husband’s repeated infidelity, the fact remains that some of us are trapped by our past history of hurts and the inability to move beyond mistakes made.

Our focus is on the present. But what sort of present? Watch out also for the possibility of a hypnotic and enclosed present. This enclosed present which is not really “living” may be observed in a young child especially a boy playing his computer game. He is so engrossed that he often loses track of time, he forgets to eat and he does not have an inkling of what is taking place around him. Watch what happens at a wedding dinner where the adults interact and there are also children there. Instead of teaching the children to have a sense of what is around them, the child is encouraged to enter into this enclosed world of the Game-Boy, iPod, the iPhone and now the iPad. Usually the argument is that they are too young to understand and one day they will. And this leads me to the third hypnosis.

It concerns the future. In fact, some people live in the future or they simply fear the future. On the one hand, for those who live in the future, they are somewhat hypnotised by a “perfect” future to come. Do you know that 98% of the population in this country is waiting for the perfect moment to begin eating healthily? I like to eat unhealthy barbequed meat and usually the eating habit is like 'This will be my last piece’ and then when I have finished this last piece, I take another one and say, ‘this really will be the last’ until the whole 1kg is gone. For those who need to gain their optimal weight [I try not to say lose weight because we tend to look back for what we have lost], is not their usual excuse “Tomorrow I will start or stop”? "Tomorrow I will start to exercise". "Tomorrow I will stop smoking". Just like those children socialised into an enclosed present, that future often does not arrive. What about those who live in fear of the future? They are so crippled by the anxiety of an imperfect future that they unilaterally decide not to bring new life into such an uncertain future forgetting that Christ is and always the Saviour.

At Advent, we catch a glimpse of how the past, the present and the future all come together. The season of Advent is the liturgical expression of our understanding of eschatology—about the nature of the end time. How is the end time characterised? The end time is not a description of an end that is in the future. Instead, the end has already begun with the coming of Christ. There is a quote from the Letter to the Hebrews which reflects the coming together of time: “Iesus Christus heri et hodie ipse et in saecula”—Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Thus, when Christ our Lord is with us, the past, the present and the future flow into one, where the present is necessary and is the only place possible to straddle ours and God’s time. It is the only time we have to redeem our past and to prepare for the future envisaged by Isaiah in the 1st Reading. This means, the present, unlike Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now”, is never enclosed as if divorced from the past and distanced from the future. St Paul's exhortation to wake up challenges us to be open to the present; a present where we endure the painful purification of our past sins as well as prepare ourselves for the realisation of the future so beautifully described by Isaiah in the 1st Reading.

I received a cartoon e-mail which I cannot project onto the wall because it has a four-letter word. It showed two dinosaurs standing on a rock outcrop surrounded by water and pelted by rain and in the distance was Noah’s Ark sailing into the horizon. The dinosaur’s extinction was explained by a caption that they had missed the boat. They forgot it was today that the ark set sail!

Christ by coming 2000 years ago set in motion the beginning of the end time. Advent reminds us not to be trapped by a painful past, hypnotised by an enclosed present and fooled by an unrealised future as to miss the boat of Christ's salvation today. Today is the only day to board the Ark of Christ’s salvation, not yesterday and not tomorrow.