30 November 2008 1st Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 63: 16-19, 64:2-7; Psalm 80; 1 Cor 1, 3-9; Mark 13, 33-37
Have you ever waited for someone to come, or something to arrive that you have oriented your life, your decisions, your attention to it? Many people have experienced this type of waiting. Some pined for the return of their father or a relative from abroad. Some are still waiting for the results of the Bar Exams or the Law Aptitude Exam (LAE). Some are still hoping to find their soul mates, the way Edward found Bella in Twilight. In whatever manner, waiting is part of our lives. And this waiting is the mood of the Season of Advent.
The reading from Isaiah is a prayer in time of despair. When we wait there is a situation or a context that needs to be fulfilled. Perhaps the need for family sparks the waiting for a relative from abroad; the freedom from poverty and destitution motivates the waiting for the result of an exam or job interview result locally or internationally; the despair one finds from being alone and lonely aggravates the desire to find someone special.
In the whole business of waiting there are two important features that are emphasized in the first reading today. In Isaiah, there is a frank admission of sinfulness: “all of us have become like unclean persons” (64,5). Even if there is a split in the community, no party can claim complete innocence. When we wait, we cannot help but reflect on that thing or that person whom we are waiting. We evaluate our relationships. We remember snippets of memories. We look back at those things we have neglected: “I have never expressed my love for my father after all these years”. We admit our sinfulness. It is a time of purification. We ready our hearts for the things we pine for.
Second, waiting is something we are not in control of. In Isaiah, the prophet appeals directly to God because no human aid is forthcoming. It was God who brought them out of Egypt. It was from no human resource. The plea is based, not on the justice of God, but on God’s mercy; he is the Father of all. The idea of God as Father assures the right of even outsiders and castaways to invoke God, irrespective of their standing in the community. The fatherhood of God was a characteristic motif on the lips of Jesus, who argued that the one Father made the sun shine and rain fall on the just and the unjust (Mt. 5, 45).
In our lives, when we wait, we put all our hopes in the hands of God. We pray for the safe return of our loved ones. We know that we cannot do anything about our exams, and thus we cannot but wait. We do not know when will we be free from our struggles, our family and financial difficulties, a hurt that still throbs, a memory that keeps haunting us. And so we wait until it ends in its time.
The difference in Advent is this: the return of salvation is assured. In Mark’s Chapter 13, the Gospel today, the apocalyptic chapter ends with Mark’s challenge for all his readers: He asks them to persevere in their faith, even in dark days of suffering on behalf of the Gospel.
So too with us. In the midst of waiting, we are to be alert from the temptation of despair and hopelessness. It is our duty to be alert missionaries of the Gospel in the present, since the Son of Man entrusted it into their hands until his return in glory.
There is something else: there is an end to this wait, a promise that is sure and assured. In the whole four weeks of Advent, it always ends with Christmas.