Thursday, 7 December 2017

1st Sunday of Advent Year B 2017

How different is Advent from Lent when it shares a similar shade as Lent? Purple. They both omit the Gloria and some weeks into the season, the vestments also swap a hue lighter. Rose. Then, the first Reading today has a strong penitential tint to it. Thus, a question that intrudes comes from the almost seamless flow from Christ the King to the first Sunday of Advent because they share a concern for a watchfulness in the matter of the impending judgement to befall us.

A passage from Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians might aid us in discerning the subtle difference in focus between Lent and Advent, and also between Christ the King and the 1st Sunday of Advent. In the Gospel, the Lord gave an indication that the persecuted would not make the rounds of the cities of Israel before the Parousia, or Adventus, as in the Vulgate translation, that is, before the final return. Two developments resulted from this. Firstly, there was a sense of hopelessness because believers had died before the final judgement. Secondly, the result of knowing that the would-be-end-of-the-world coming soon witnessed sloth creeping in, as is common with human nature. After all, He will come, why not just wait Him out. Or simply, why bother since He is already coming?

But, Paul disabused his people of their misconception that those alive at the Second Coming would have an advantage over those who had died. Thus, it is not hopelessness for those who have passed on before the Parousia. In fact, the key phrase is to be ever watchful or attentive because the Lord’s coming is like a thief in the night. Whereas, Lent’s watchfulness is centred on taking stock of our life because we never know when He might come but more probably it is we who will go and meet Him first; Advent’s watchfulness is different. It is not really inward but rather forward looking. In other words, it is anticipatory. We are waiting to spring into action, like those 5 bridesmaid who have enough oil in their lamps waiting for the Bridegroom to arrive.

Whilst the Preface for Advent I speaks of the two comings of Christ, St Bernard, one of the doctors of the Church, speaks of the three comings of Christ. Firstly, He came. It is a historical fact. He dwelt amongst us about 2000 years ago. The Apostles and those associated with the early Church testified to His presence. He came in our weakness and in our flesh. Secondly, that is not the end of the story because He will return. This coming is eschatological and will take place in the historical future where He will return in glory and majesty. Finally, until such time when He comes in the future, the third coming takes place as we wait for Him, during Lent by focusing inwardly and in Advent by looking forward, just like faithful servants longing for the Master to return.

This is a waiting that is hopeful and it is based on the testimony of a past in which God has never failed us. Since, we live suspended between the two comings of Christ, historical and eschatological, the past and the future, hence, hope in the future means living in the present believing that what He had done for us, He will do again.

This form of waiting is hard work. It is challenging. Why?

The horizon is rather bleak and hopeless. There is a dampening despair about us which we often fail to recognise it as such. From the perspective of a family, our children appear to be in greater danger than ever before. For most parents, the fear is for the personal safety of their children. But, what about the more vulnerable exposed to trafficking and sold into slavery or the sex industry? Economics, notwithstanding, this hopelessness has given birth to a future with few children: “Why bring new life into this horrible world”?

If you look at society in general, we appear to idolise victimhood—an idea of woundedness that does not seem to heal. Last Sunday, I spoke of the innate hunger for accountability, which is a good, a bonum, a necessity in an age of eternal youthfulness or perpetual adolescence. The current viewing is titled “Inappropriate Behaviour” of our cinematic beaux mondes or political personages (and God forbid, that the Church should be out of this limelight!).

But, for every victim who alleges sexual harassment, (not that they should keep quiet), what about the nameless boat refugee raped by a gang of pirates at high sea, who has no recourse to media justice? Does it mean that she has become less of a person? What of the stories untold, unpublicised, “unexposed”? If one takes a moment to reflect, there is an unspoken despair which requires healing to be absolute before one can start living again. We fail to recognise that justice is not always to be found in this world. And because we do not get it, there is a gnawing sense of “incompleteness” that prevents life from going on.

Elevate this hopelessness to a global scale. Putting aside natural calamities, we have waves of European wannabes braving the Mediterranean but who are no longer in focus because the Rohingyas have come into the spotlight. A century of social engineering has not only left us with a trail of broken spirits but proofs that no earthly programmes can completely eradicate inequalities. Does this not suggest that hoping is hopeless? Even our prayers express this despair. We have, more or less, accepted that a situation is bad so much so that our “optimism” is a veneer for a deep “pessimism”. If there is a God, we are hoping that this God will take note of it and prevent things from getting any worse.

People lament that the spirit of Christmas has been drowned by the din of commercialism. If you set aside the prejudice against the buying and selling and think a little bit more, perhaps you might realise that all the buying is basically an attempt to drown our sorrow of despair. We naïvely believe that consuming can assuage this emptiness of hopelessness that we have inside.

In the context of watching and waiting, sin can be a kind of distraction, like an Odyssean gorging of narcotising lotus that deflects or blurs our hopeful vision. Notice so many of us are fixated on our mobile screens that our senses are numbed from staring at it. Therefore, Advent’s anticipation is definitely purifying. But unlike Lent, it is not an inward looking purification, even though there is a measure of it. Instead, it is forward looking, a training of the eyes to peer beyond what we have to a horizon where all that fails us can be rectified. As we await the Parousia, this longing is a hope that enables one to withstand the disappointments that life may dish or dump on us. Thus, it is a purification of our trust in the God who was there is a God who will be there. Come Lord Jesus, come.