1st Sunday of Advent (B)
November 27, 2011
A brand-new year is starting today in Church! A wisp of new wind blows towards a new direction, a fresh start, a renewed effort, at becoming what we are already on the way to being.
We Christians know how to wait. We have been waiting, like the Israelites of old did. We are still actively waiting. In words borrowed from T.S. Eliot, we may sit still, but we are in point of fact, still moving … moving towards the fulfillment of what we have already started, though not yet fully and totally achieved.
We are a people in waiting. We, too, are a people in motion. We are a people in exile, like the Israelites once, or twice, were, living in a foreign land, subjected to foreign powers, humbled beyond imagination, by potentates bigger than us, bigger than the world, bigger than life itself! But we are also a people on the move. Like the Biblical people of old, though crushed, we are not defeated.
I have survived 13 Philippine mountains. Once I was on my way up the second highest peak of the Philippines (the highest in Luzon island) with signal number 3 typhoon watch hoisted! We were down and out as we approached the summit, tired, beaten and weary, not only physically, but more so, emotionally, for we thought we were not going to make it up there with winds howling, trees swaying wildly, and freezing cold rain battering flesh and bone like we never experienced before. But almost miraculously, the typhoon went away just as we bundled up and trudged the final assault to the peak!
The grass, which actually was all miniature bamboos, was the first one that captured my attention. When the sun was up long enough, and we could finally take off our heavy sodden boots, the reality of the miniature bamboos, sturdy and stolid even in the typhoon, blew us all away for sheer wonder! In the wind-battered landscape, where trees all bowed to the mighty wind in surrender, all pointing towards where the wind kept on blowing, the lowly grass, stood proud and small (not tall)! In their diminutiveness, they stood erect, un-swayed and unaffected by the raging storm above and around them.
This, for me, is an image of hope, a picture of what it means to wait, and wait actively in hope. The grass from under our feet, for all the beating they get from the wind, the sun, the rain, and the tramplings from the feet of people like us, are an image of what the new year in the Church opens with – Advent!
Advent, for all its newness, really opens with the reality of pain and brokenness. The first reading calls to mind the painful experience of exile for the people of God in Babylon. But for all its pathos and pain, the experience, from Isaiah’s point of view, is fraught, not with despair, but with oozing hopefulness. It acknowledges the pain that the clay has to go through, being kneaded and pummeled and moulded by the hands of an expert potter, who makes works of art out of the lowliness and humility of the seemingly worthless clay!
My opening salvo for this new year of the Church, in attunement to what the Church wants us to reflect on, is simply this … Advent is all about seeing differently. Advent is all about seeing stars, not scars! Advent is all about seeing beautiful pots, not just mounds of useless clay. Advent is all about God forming us into what He wants us to become.
Advent is all about us standing, and perhaps trampling, on the miniature grass atop Mt. Pulag. They may be small, but they stood proud and small! Hope is that which one has in the heart knowing that the desired reality is already growing from under one’s feet. Hope is that attitude that knows that, despite everything, typhoons will continue on coming, winds will go on blowing, rains will keep on falling, but the grass will go on growing, for the seeds of what we are waiting for have already been planted, by no less than God!
Hope is that attitude of the clay that refuses to remain just a mound of worthless mud, for the simple reason that there is an expert and wise potter to make art out of trash!
We live in many places all over the world really surrounded by trash. A lot of trash talk invades our ears by the day. Politicians in many places even make the situation worse off than before, for power and wealth are almost like they were made for each other. Corruption is just about the only word that seemingly can be paired with political power and unlimited wealth. From where I stand, the powers-that-be, in the name of doing good, are doing a lot of evil, by acting vengefully on former power-brokers, and riding rough shod on them, for they are no longer in power. Ostensibly, they claim to clean up the system, by ironically using the same system of abuse that they denounce.
Trash and trash talk, accusations and counter accusations, mar the serenity of our times. At times like these, it is hard to see the promise behind a mound of mud, and behind the lowly grass that people simply trample on.
But Advent, we are told, is also about waiting. Adventus means coming, and it doesn’t make much sense for someone to be coming while no one is waiting! We are a people in waiting. But we are not just a people who twiddle our thumbs or wringing our hands waiting for something that won’t come.
No! We are waiting… yes, but waiting actively in hope, for the potter has already set his hands on the clay. “We are the clay, and you are the potter, O Lord!”
My country is in a big mess right now. It has always been. Every past administration is hated for at least a few things. No one seemed to have done everything right. And no one is doing the right things and doing them rightly even as I write. Europe is in a big financial heap of troubles. America’s financial self-esteem and self-confidence have both taken a beating in the recent years, and the end of all its woes is by no means in sight. Neither is it forthcoming, by any stretch of the imagination.
At times like these, I go back to my Advent experience of being in the midst of the worst situation one can find himself in – a typhoon signal number three whilst nearing the peak of Luzon’s highest peak. And if Oliver Plunkett could state that “I see His blood upon the rose, and in the stars the glory of His eyes,” I saw hope in the lowly grass. I see hope in the humble mound of mud. I see hope in Him who is the heavenly potter… “Yet, O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.” We are more then, than just a mound of mud, but a heap of HOPE!