First Sunday of Advent: Gospel – Mk 13:33-37

"
Be Vigilant in Living our Faith"

Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore
on 27th November 2011

In today’s Gospel that we just heard proclaimed, Jesus reminds His disciples and also us to “stay awake” as the master of the house who has gone away will return unexpectedly, and he must not find you asleep.  In other words, Jesus  is challenging us to be vigilant and responsible  in the way we live our faith daily, as this expected of us as His followers.

The master of the household in the Gospel refers to God, Our Lord, coming to us at the end of the world or coming to us privately when we die.  Both can happen at any time and that’s the reality that we are called to face and accept; not out of fear, but out of love for God.

This waiting for the “Second Coming of Christ” in love has to be emphasised because we have today, many false prophets and superficial spiritualities that promote and present the “End Times” in such fearful manner that unless we repent in time, we are all going to suffer the eternal fires of hell.  While I am not saying that we should never worry about the sinswe have committed, I am saying that we have first to remember that God, our Lord who sent Jesus His Son to save us is a God of Love who wants to save every human person on earth.  This God is a God of Compassion and whose Love is Merciful.  This God is not waiting for us to take our last breath and then with a glee on His face cast us into the eternal flames of hell that He has prepared for us.

In short, my brothers and sisters in Christ, let us view the Second Coming of Christ positively as God wants to save us and wanting to punish us.  However, this also means that we should never take God’s Goodness, Mercy and Compassion for granted.  Thus, Jesus in today’s Gospel reminds us to live a vigilant and responsible life and wait for His return.

To live a responsible life is not just avoiding sin out of the fear of punishment, but more positively, we are called to do good out of love for God.  In today’s world that is constantly influenced by secularism that promotes self-centeredness success, it is very difficult to be selfless and other-centered; let alone being God-centered.  One of the effects of secularism that is relevant for us to reflect on in the light of today’s Gospel is our desire for instant gratification.

        

Jesus in today’s Gospel wants us to live vigilant and responsible lives that are selfless and in accordance to God’s love and ways; all these, as in all relationships take time to nurture and mature.  However, the secularism that we breathe and live daily promotes the contrary; they promote an egoism that is impatient and an instant gratification that is self-serving and is preoccupied with our own personal success; and often at the expense of our colleagues, our family and the suffering of others, like the migrant workers.

If we want to live a vigilant life that is responsible, we need to develop relationships with one another that is grounded and founded on God’s love.  It is not uncommon these days to see a spoilt child insisting on instant gratification of his need for ice-cream, toys, computer games and the like.  Adults are not too different from children in that we too want our instant gratification of entertainment and dream of the luxurious comfort, success and glamour of the secular world.  We find it difficult to wait and are impatient for the sacrifices that are needed.  How often have you heard someone complain bitterly when he has to wait at the bus stop for 15 minutes or someone fuming because the traffic jam took him an extra ten minutes to arrive home?

              

A priest once shared that when a young man, lets call him David, wanted to learn about Christ, he give him the Gospels to read and reflect on.  The following day, when David met the priest he said, “Father, I have already flipped through the Gospel and read what is has to say.  They are all old stuff; there is nothing new; do you have something else for me?  The priest answered, “How long did you spend on reading the Gospel?” David answered, “Oh, about ½ and hour.”  “The Gospel is not meant to be browsed and flipped through, but pondered on patiently in prayer and reflection.”  “Oh no father, that would take up too much of my time and prayer is boring sitting there doing nothing.”

We may ask ourselves too, “Like, David, do I also find prayers to be too boring and time consuming?  Do I get bored easily too when I do not get the immediate response to what I am looking for in a spiritual book that I am reading or a religious course that I am attending?  Do we not find ourselves trying to help out in some good cause for the poor and then easily give up.  Do we not find ourselves wanting to improve on our spiritual life, but in the end always finding that there is someone or something else that we have to attend to instead of coming to Church for certain programmes. . . . ?”

          

My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we don’t have time or are too impatient to spend time to build a relationship with someone, our family, or with God, then the relationship will never grow and deepen.  Relationships whether with one another or with God takes time to build and if we give up so easily then something else or someone else has become more important.

Advent is a time of vigilant waiting for the coming of Christ into our lives at Christmas.  Even as we celebrate this liturgical season, we also know that this vigilance is a positive “waiting” of developing our relationship with God whom we love.

In Saint-Exupery’s book, the “Little Prince,” the fox tells the little prince about how important it is to anticipate the coming of someone you love. “If you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, then at three o’clock I shall begin to be happy.  I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances.  At four o’clock I shall already be worrying and jumping about . . . I shall know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you.”   With much the same feelings, the Church, during the Advent season spend these next four weeks before Christmas anticipating the coming of the Lord.

         

Once again the Lord is coming as He did 2,000 years ago at Bethlehem.  Actually, in addition to this coming of the Lord and His Coming at the end of the world or at the end of our lives when we die, there are many other “comings” of our Lord.  Christ comes to us daily and if we have the eyes to see, the ears to hear, the heart to feel and the mind to know, we would not only live more vigilant lives of the Lord, but also be much happier persons.

In the Sacrament of marriage, there is the beautiful wordings that expresses that the wife brings Christ to her husband, and the husband finds Christ in his wife.  And, both of them find Christ in their parents and children.  Over the door of many monasteries is written, “When a visitor comes, Christ comes.”  However, it is sad that in many of our homes, often Christ comes to the family and, like the Christmas story, finds no place in the home.  Christ comes, but we do not see Him.  We don’t see Him in the poor and in those who are in need. We don’t sense Him in our suffering and pain.  We don’t serve and love Him in others because we don’t see Him in them.

                        

Some philosophers make the distinction between pain and suffering. Pain is just pain to be avoided at all costs.  But, suffering is when we take pain and add love to it.  Mary suffered the Seven Swords of Sorrow, and Christ suffered the Cross, but there was love in it.  When we find Christ in suffering, it becomes an act of love.

But, if we allow our self-centred secularism to dilute and destroy the love we ought to have for others and more so for Christ in our hearts, then the fear of God’s punishment of hell may take over, or worse still our self-centeredness may so consume us that Christ is pushed to the background of our lives and He becomes unimportant, redundant and irrelevant in our daily living.

When that happens, hopefully we do not sink to that level of tepidity, we would no longer be waiting in anticipation for the Coming of the Lord at Christmas, or His Coming at the end of the world and also at the end of our life . . . and that’s living a life of misery on earth and tragedy at our death.  But, if we are able to live the grace of the Advent season more fully, then the Advent of this week will bring renewed hope into our lives and the fullness of joy at the coming of Christ at Christmas.

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

 

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