The second and third readings' insistence, not without a tone of urgency, to "rise and shine" and "conduct ourselves properly as in the day," is striking. There is no mistaking it. It is urgent. It is important. And it is imperative that one gets to realize that, while waiting for something imminent and sure, one really has no time to lose, no moment to spare, no opportunity to waste and let go.
The insistence can be summarized simply thus: it is now the hour!
It is now the hour! Whilst it is true and obvious that in our days, people are hard pressed for time, and are quite incapable of waiting, it is also true that for many people in a mad rush towards something undefined, the sense of urgency can often be more a sign of neurotic attachment to being occupied and busy with something. People rush out of their work places, only to kill time in front of the TV screen, watching and getting involved in telenovelas, or let time fritter away in some entertainment place, while nursing a drink or two in the hand. People everywhere try to cut through snarled or stalled traffic, only to get home and spend more time in front of the ubiquitous computer.
People are in a perpetual rush. And people in rush are people who cannot wait.
Henri Nouwen makes an insightful comment that in the gospel according to Luke, the first personages mentioned are all described as people in waiting ... Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon, Anna ... and, of course, Mary! I would like to suggest my own tentative insight, for whatever it is worth to you my readers. I would like to suggest that for at least two of them, their waiting was crowned with a satisfied and fulfilled sigh of more than just relief. They acclaimed and extolled God who made known His glory at the appointed time. Zechariah waxed prayerful and grateful as he acknowledged the "hour of visitation" from the Lord God: "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, he has come to his people and set them free." Zechariah acknowledged that the Lord's appointed hour of salvation has come. His profuse praise is made as if to say: "It is now the hour ... it is now the hour to thank and praise God who has made good his promises of old.
Simeon, too, was a man conscious and cognizant of the "hour" of God's epiphany. Happy and fulfilled that the Lord has, indeed, chosen to favor him with his timely self-manifestation, Simeon poured forth his thanks and praise for his "hour" had already come, and that it was now his "hour" to take leave with overflowing joy and a deep sense of gratitude and fulfillment. "Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled." It is now the hour for me to go. It is now the hour for me to take leave quietly, for "my own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people."
But Mary herself was a woman of the hour. She knew how to appreciate and acknowledge the overwhelming truth, not only of the hour, but for all time: "From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty had done great things for me, and holy is his name." Her prayer is made as if to say, "it is now the hour to give God utmost glory and praise, for he has mercy on those who fear him in every generation" ... now ... then ... and thereafter.
We are a people tired of waiting. We cannot wait a minute longer to get our favorite fast-food meal. Many of us get violent while sitting it out in snarled traffic everywhere. In the Philippines, some people can even get so worked up waiting that, in their anger, they pump bullets into other people who happen to also get very impatient and cranky while struggling for limited driving space in our hopelessly inadequate roads. Road rage is nothing more than impatient waiting turned violent. In crowded restaurants, everyone has a sense of entitlement making unreasonable demands on the oftentimes hapless waiters and waitresses who get the ire of pretentious and unsatisfied customers who all want to be served first. Again, in the Philippines, predictably, ambitious wannabes are already positioning themselves as they drool over the most coveted office in the land as we approach once more the year of national elections.
It is indeed the hour for everyone who has his or her personal agenda to take care of. It is the hour to strut one's stuff in the ramp of life. When it comes to ambition, it is always the right time. When it comes to personal dreams and desires, it is always the hour. And there is precious little time to waste when it comes to fulfilling one's overriding desires and dreams. Already, in every Senate investigation and high profile discussions done under the glare of lights and whirring TV cameras, people who drool over national positions of leadership consider it their opportunity "to strut and fret their hour on the stage" of life.
Advent has once more set in for us believers. Today, we begin that very short period of no more than four Sundays when all we do is focus on the main issue of waiting. But today's opening salvo would have us acknowledge like Zechariah, Simeon, and Mary did, that the time has come. What we are waiting for has come already and has irrupted into our present hour.
The personages in waiting as reported by Luke are individuals who wait, not impatiently, but imbued with the spirit of hope. Zechariah, Simeon, and Anna had all the time to be waiting. Luke's report tells us they were old, very old, but ever youthful in their active and hopeful waiting. Their beard and hair may have been grey, but their hope never grew grey hairs. For patient and hopeful people who know how to wait never grouse and become grouchy when the "hour" finally comes their way. Impatient people complain when the object of their waiting comes around. "Why only now?" would be their exasperated statement, most likely. But hopeful people burst forth in praise and proclamation when the much-awaited "hour" comes around.
We postmodern people just cannot wait. There was a time people said, "wait a minute" if they had to have people on hold for any reason. Nowadays, people don't even want to wait a minute. Most people would now say, "hold on a second." Just a second, never a minute ... In a world that communicates instantly "in real time," a minute of waiting is simply unimaginable and unforgivable.
But important things can stand being waited for, more than just a second, and definitely more than just a minute. Today's liturgy, the first Sunday of Advent, reminds us that it is now, not the second, it is now, not the minute, but "it is now the hour" of our salvation.
With salvation and redemption so important, a second less, a second more; a minute less, a minute more would not count as important. What really counts and matters in the long run is what that "hour" ultimately is all about - everything that our hope and patient waiting stand for - our salvation in Christ, "for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed."
Another typhoon has visited us recently. Even now, as I talk, so many still have to pick up the scattered pieces of their lives, both literally and figuratively, to get up and face life anew, despite so much loss.
I have experienced helping the very helpless after devastating storms a number of times in my life. I remember the feeling of being like those I was trying to help - helpless and dazed in apparent hopelessness.
It felt so humbling ... being literally so helpless - in the face of so many needs, all urgent and all important. The magnitude of the destruction, in many cases, was unfathomable. Money doesn't grow on trees, and no one plucks it out of nowhere just when one needs it, no matter how urgent, no matter how important, no matter how noble.
But at the same time, it felt so encouraging. The little that was available for everyone to do was precisely what the suffering millions needed. The power that was not anyone's innate resource was the very same power that God needed to do His mighty works. Aid came in trickles ... a little bag here; a little bag there. A few hundred pesos now; a few hundred pesos later. Not before long, I had enough to send me to the groceries and shop for needed ready to eat foodstuffs that I felt I needed to send. Fast. For there was no waiting, no dilly-dallying.
So to the mall I went. After buying solar lamps and sending someone to buy a Ham radio transceiver and generator sets from people's initial donations, I proceeded to the supermarket. There I saw the power of lowliness, simplicity, and weakness, the power of one becoming the power that God eventually needs.
I espied a group of old ladies, hardly able to push their carts. They were shopping for loads and loads of crackers and noodles. Behind them and before us were young couples with their toddlers in tow, stocking up crackers and noodles and other easy to prepare foodstuffs. I made for the beeline of people asking for boxes and boxes of the same stuff. And then it dawned on me. I was going to send them to the typhoon victims. They, too, apparently, were going to do the same.
Today is the Solemnity of Christ the King. There is ironically nothing kingly (as the world understood it) that oozes out of the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. The image connotes simplicity and weakness. What power does a lowly shepherd has? What force can a young smelly shepherd like David muster to frighten giant marauders and warriors like Goliath? What dent can little old ladies who could not even carry what they buy make to a gargantuan tragedy that Haiyan (Yolanda) was for millions of Filipinos that happened to be in its murderous path?
But Kingship as the Lord would have it, was not meant to be associated with power. Kingship as he showed and lived it is far from what the world prizes and values and understands. Kingship of the Lord has to do with shepherding and serving. It has to do with being lowly and low-keyed; with simply serving rather than serving self and aggrandizing and ingratiating oneself.
This King is one who established his kingship with the passport of suffering and pain. He hung on the cross, reviled, ridiculed, dissed in every way, and despised by everyone. "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us."
This King is the one we honor today. He is no ruler, if what you mean is commander of armies and warrior and power wielder. He suffers in silence. He serves in his suffering and suffers in his ultimate service - the offering of his own life so that we all might live.
Our people are once again in pain. I see so much helplessness. Many lost everything including loved ones. Life will never be the same again for millions of us. And yet, those very same people in pain are the very first ones to call on the Lord that the world considers a shame. Despite all the pain, they behave like there is everything to gain, if only they held on to their faith.
Christ, the King, passed through the same path. Simplicity. Suffering. Death. Unjust treatment from everyone. He experienced no typhoon, but he is just as battered and bruised by undeserved suffering. He is King. And He is such because He is the first to show that glory, fullness of life, salvation, and God's final victory are nothing but the flip side of what the world rejects, refuses, ignores, and intends to deny - the mystery of human suffering.
To a people so hardy and strong, steadfast and sturdy in faith, I say: "Hold on." The King has an important message in his simplicity, suffering, pain, and ignominious death ..."Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
Hail King! King of our hearts, King of the universe, strengthen us in faith, hope and love!
Last week, we alluded to the importance and necessity of
having perspective. To have perspective is to have a frame on which to set a
picture, a ground on which to locate a seemingly smaller reality. To have
perspective is to be endowed with a point of view, to see the bigger picture,
as it were, and not to miss the bigger forest for just a few trees.
The seven brothers and their heroic mother of last week’s
first reading, definitely had perspective. That perspective of faith in the
resurrection was what gave them the courage, the strength, and the endurance to
withstand a painful and cruel – grisly – death. On that score, the Sadducees,
disbelieving as they were, of the resurrection, lacked the necessary
perspective to see beyond earthly existence. Their ridiculous – if, impossible
– scenario in the impertinent question posed to the Lord, betrayed their utter
lack of perspective.
This Sunday, we get to understand the concept a little more
– and with a lot more graphic and concrete details to boot! That perspective
takes the form of what Malachi and the apocalyptic writers call “the day of the
Lord.” In a language that sounds as gruesome as the language of the seven brothers’
account of their martyrdom, the day of the Lord is presented like fire that
razes “all evildoers” [who] will be set on fire, “leaving them neither root nor
branch.” But Malachi makes sure that the bigger picture behind the grisly
images is proclaimed: “for [those] who fear [God’s] name, there will arise the
sun of justice with its healing rays.”
Although Marshall McLuhan quipped long ago that “the medium
is the message,” in the case of today’s first reading from Malachi, the
picturesque images used ought not to be mistaken for the message. The snapshot
ought to be distinguished from the frame on which it is set. The frighteningly
concrete images of fire and destruction ought not to obscure the bigger truth
conveyed by the passage that “the Lord comes to rule the earth with justice”
That big picture is summed up by the phrase “day of the
The truth is couched in metaphor, in concrete images that
sound frightening to modern ears. But the frame on which such images are set,
the ground on which those metaphors are based, have to do with the certain
truth that God is coming with both majesty and power to set everything aright,
to reward the good, and to punish evildoers. And the only way this can be done
is to “raze everything to the ground” and start anew on a clean slate. This
basically means to transform the world as we know it, to renew all, and restore
everything to its original state of utter blessedness.
In computer terminology, I would like to use the world
“reset.” Perhaps a close analogy to explain this truth is the concept of
“burning” rewritable DVDs or CDs. To renew the contents of a re-writable DVD or
CD, ironically, even computer parlance calls it “burning.” One cannot put in
new stuff to the disk unless one burns it, unless one very literally razes its
contents and restores it to its pristine state. Only then can one hope to put
in new data. For it to be renewed, it needs to be overhauled by passing through
“Nero’s” hands, so to speak.
Sometimes, to continue on with my computer analogy, when one
“resets,” one’s computer, one loses data. When one empties one’s “cache,” one
loses even those data one doesn’t want to lose. One very literally starts out
again, on a clean slate. One gets transformed. One gets cleansed of old “files”
that encumber one’s CPU and slows down operations.
The “day of the Lord,” pictured thus, offers us a positive
perspective. Instead of being razed, one is renewed. Instead of being emptied,
one is made whole and rendered receptive to a fresh influx of grace. Instead of
being encumbered by old data, and countless “cookies” that weigh the CPU down,
one is cleansed and made whole once again. The UPSET that took place because of
too many viruses of sin in our lives, is RESET,and the original SETUPis
Our times call for focus. Our times call for perspective. We
live dissipated lives, bombarded as we are with the so-called “info-flood.” As
the gospel of Luke says, there are too many who come and speak like they were
the true voice, who talk like they come in Christ’s name. Too many “pop ups”
clutter the screen of our spiritual lives. Too many “worms” try to (pardon the
tautology), worm themselves into the system and destroy us from within. “See
that you be not deceived, for many will come in my name …”
It would do us good to see our lives in terms of what we are
all too familiar with. Whether or not one is computer literate, one readily
understands the concrete image of razing that figuratively refers to renewing,
not destroying. In this sense, then, the apocalyptic language that, at first,
frightens, really in the end, enlightens. It brings to the light, and to the
fore the truth that stands behind our conviction of the resurrection of the
dead. It brings into relief the frame on which is set the metaphorical images
of fire and stubble that would all be consumed, the earthquakes, famines, and
plagues. That frame which constitutes the bigger, more important reality is the
second coming of the Lord, the so-called “last things” that constitute the
essential tenets of Christian faith that is expressed succinctly thus: “Stand
erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand” (Lk 21:28)
I am a pilgrim. I am a learner. I journey with others in faith and life. In all I do, in my preaching, teaching, counseling, and writing, "all I want is to know Christ, and to experience the power of his resurrection" (Phil 3:10). By so doing, I humbly hope to make a difference in people's lives.