[BREAKING THE BREAD OF GOD’S WORD]
First Sunday of Advent – C
November 29, 2015
WAITING, HOPING, DOING
There is always an air of freshness and newness every time Advent sets in. And it is all in the readings. Today, first Sunday of cycle C, Jeremiah gives the opening salvo: “The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah.” And what Jeremiah says is all forward-looking: “Judah shall be safe and Israel shall dwell secure.”
Historically though, the early Church that looked back and reflected on Jeremiah’s words was anything but secure. They were, in fact, uncertain, and the times were unstable. The fledgling Church was tossed in a swirling sea of political turmoil, wars, intense rivalry and talks of rebellion all over the Roman empire.
It was the perfect time for them to hear of “signs in the sun, the moon and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.” They were, to be sure, familiar signs.
But we know better today than think that the Lord was fomenting fear and terror. It was the other way around. The Lord was instilling hope, even as he was reminding them that the signs they saw around them were not the ultimate, and that those very signs point to the coming of salvation, not destruction.
Our times are no different from then. We are immersed in a sea of uncertainty, too. Terror is everywhere. The world cannot keep up with the number of places where there is mass mayhem and murder, from Nigeria to Paris, from Syria to Lebanon, and let us not mention the Philippines where 44 policemen were massacred, a case that has not been fully explained yet.
In the face of all this, we have two immediate choices: give in to reminiscing and wistfully looking at the glorious past, or look forward to an even more terrifying future.
None of these two choices is what Scripture and the liturgy of today, choose. Today, together with the rest of Christian believers who will gather for the liturgy of the First Sunday of Advent, we choose HOPE. We choose FAITH. We choose LOVE.
Merely recalling the past, no matter how comforting, does not lead us anywhere. But, in the same vein, looking at the uncertain future does not solve anything either. We need to do a different approach. We need to accept reality for what it is, and do a different reading of it in the light of God’s Word.
All three readings today accept the reality of pain, suffering, instability and uncertainty. Jeremiah spoke of glorious things to come, precisely because he was in touch with what was going on. There was no justice in the land.
For their part, the Thessalonians were all excitedly looking forward to the second coming of the Lord. But Paul had the better sense of redirecting all that enthusiasm to doing good, that is, to love one another and to strengthen one another. He had one simple message: It is well and good to wait for the Lord’s second coming, but in the meantime, we need to roll up our sleeves and work for the good.
The Gospel passage in the meanwhile, could lend itself easily to misinterpretation. It does not say we should go around looking for signs in the sky. What the Lord tells us is to go beyond those signs, and learn the important lesson behind it.
And that important lesson has to do with being awake, alert, ready and prepared. It has to do with living in hope. And living in hope means being aware and accepting that the times remain uncertain, unstable, unsure, and unsafe.
In our times, there is no more need to be looking for more signs. There are enough signs to ponder on. But what is missing in our times is what Jeremiah, the Thessalonians, St. Paul and the immediate followers of Christ all had – HOPE, FAITH, and LOVE.
They all knew what was coming. They all knew who was in control. They all knew that victory belonged to God, not to terror, not to anything evil.
And this is what we proclaim in Advent. Christ has come. And Christ is yet to come again. And as we wait in hope, we wait actively in faith and love, too. We try to “conduct ourselves to please God.”