Be Vigilant


HAPPY NEW YEAR to everybody! Perhaps you think I am getting confused. This is not January 1 nor is it the lunar new year or the beginning of the Muslim year. Yet it is the beginning of a new year, the beginning of another Church year.

Last week we celebrated the Feast of Christ the King and the last Sunday of the outgoing Church year. Today is the First Sunday in Advent and the beginning of a new Church year. It is also the beginning of a new cycle of prayers and Scripture readings, Cycle C. So, “Happy New Year to you all!”

Why are these four weeks before Christmas called “Advent”? The term comes from a Latin word (adventus) meaning ‘coming, arrival’. We immediately think it refers to the coming of Jesus at Christmastime and that is correct. But it is not the whole story. In fact, we can speak of three comings of the Lord and all are referred to in the Scripture readings today.

The First Reading from the prophet Jeremiah refers prophetically to the coming of Jesus, our King and Saviour: “I will make a virtuous Branch grow for David, who shall practise honesty and integrity in the land.” That is the coming of the Child Jesus in Bethlehem, which we anticipate and prepare for in these four weeks. That is what we may call the First Coming.

The Gospel speaks in ominous terms of the end of the world and what we refer to as the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of time. “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” [Living Liturgy 2018]

However, there is still a third coming which forms an important and indispensable link between the First and Second Comings. That is what is spoken about in the Second Reading. It is the welcoming of Jesus into our lives in the here and now. This is something which takes place every day. By it we both acknowledge the First Coming of Jesus in Bethlehem and prepare for the Second Coming at an unknown future date.

It may seem strange to start the beginning of the Church year by speaking about the end of the world. Should we not rather be speaking about creation? Or at least about the beginnings of Christianity and the moment of Incarnation?

Our life in this world is a kind of journey or pilgrimage. In the Scripture and in life generally the beginnings and the past in one sense are not so important. These are happenings which have already taken place and there is nothing we can do to change them now. However, they have an importance in that they deeply influence what we are now – in both good and less good ways.

What is more important is that we should know where we are going and where our destination is. Why is that? Baseball immortal Yogi Berra put it rather well when he said: “You got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.” When we decide where we want to go, it will influence what we do and it will guide our choices. If I decide I want to be an engineer or an architect, then I have to take certain steps and make certain decisions. If, on the other hand, I decide to be a monk or a hermit, then I will have to make quite different decisions and choices. I will not be looking back at where I came from but forward to where I am going.

The readings for today urge us to face the realities of life. Many people want to enjoy their life but either of two things happens. Either they spend years of toil and energy trying to set up a situation where they can ‘enjoy’ but never actually reach their goal, or they ‘enjoy’ by actually escaping from the day to day realities through indulging in alcohol, gambling, drugs, material indulgence or any combination of these, and inadvertently, ending up in Miami rehabs. People, as the Gospel says, are coarsened “with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life”. Many of these cares are, if they could only realize it, of their own making.

One sign of the Son of Man’s redeeming Presence is that we are growing in love. Despite appearances to the contrary (violence, disaster and destruction generated both by natural forces and human choices), God’s plan and purpose are directed toward redemption and life. We need to read the right signs—new life in the midst of seeming destruction, the glory of the Son of Man coming into the darkness, the love of Christ growing in our hearts. We need to be attentive to holy love. The vigilance to which Jesus calls is possible when we embrace his Presence with holy love.

Vigilance for the many ways Christ is present to us involves self-emptying for the sake of the other. This means that our focus is not on our own wants and needs, but on the Christ who chooses to be intimately present to us. It means that we are able to see the Christ who dwells in the other. Holy love is the giv­ing of self that brings us to “stand erect.” We stand tall and confident because we know that we are choosing to be in right relationship with others. We stand tall because Christ is present to help us grow in the holy love he came to reveal. We stand tall because we know our “redemption is at hand.” Love abounds! It is a beautiful thing!

Adapted from Renew International Year C