Advent: Expecting ... preparing

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

Advent 2000 was a propitious one for the Philippines. The country was then split right in the middle. The supporters of President Joseph "Erap" Estrada, who was then going through his impeachment trial for corruption before the Senate, were shouting, "Erap pa rin" ("Erap still") while those opposed were shouting, "Erap resign". Those for Estrada said that he must finish his term in 2004 as provided for by the Constitution while those against him said that he had lost the moral ascendancy to govern and should therefore resign or be impeached.

Amidst this political crisis, one jeepney driver who did not join an earlier "Welga ng Bayan" (nation-wide strike) said that even if President Estrada would be ousted, his life would still be the same. He asked pointedly, "If I do not go out to work today, will those calling for the "welga" give me the money to buy the kilo of rice which my family badly needs?" The "welga" advocates' response to this: "We have to make sacrifices now otherwise with the President still at the helm the entire economy will collapse and it will be all of us who will bear the consequences."

Then, knowledgeable observers said that regardless of which side came out the winner, nothing could hide the fact that the country was beset with big and serious problems. For this reason, many of us were apprehensive about the immediate future. True enough, after Estrada was ousted through "people power" the following month and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was installed President, the country continued to be split and its serious problems remained, for the most part, unattended to.

Our apprehension then pales when compared with that of the early Christians. In today's gospel reading, we see Jesus painting a very bleak future for humankind - total disaster that came with the end of the world. Then, "nations will be in dismay" and "will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world" (Lk. 21:25-28; 34-36) Why? Because "the powers of the heavens will be shaken."

Then Jesus warned the people against being caught carousing or drunk, being caught by surprise on that day. Instead, He advised them to "Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man."

What are they to be vigilant for? Jesus' promise of what will take place after the nightmarish events: "Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory." In short, amidst the bad news, there is also good news: final redemption for those who have followed Him. As always, Jesus offers hope even amidst the worst of circumstances.

This has been the way of God with His Chosen People over the centuries as we know from the Old Testament. When our first parents Adam and Eve fell - a catastrophic event for the whole of future generations indeed - God promised them a Savior. This promise was made clearer and more specific by the prophets over the centuries. We have one of these prophecies in the first reading (Jer. 33:14-16) when God said through Jeremiah, "In those days... I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David's line; he will do what is just and right in the land."

For centuries, the people waited for the fulfillment of this promise. Meanwhile, the people of Israel went through all kinds of upheavals, including the exile in Babylon. Long after the people's return to Israel from exile and finally in God's time, the promise was fulfilled when Jesus, the "righteous Branch," was born of the family of David. Yet, when He finally came, the people of Israel did not even know of His coming except for the "remnants of Israel," a handful who always lived in hope.

Advent is the season when we relive the great and joyful expectation of the people of the Old Testament--specially the "remnants of Israel"--as they awaited and prepared for the coming of the Savior. Very important in our preparation for Jesus' coming is what He said before the "end-time" comes: "Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able... to stand before the Son of Man" (Lk. 21:36).

How are we to prepare for the coming of the Lord? Though the external trimmings add color to the occasion, what really counts is the preparation that takes place in our hearts. On this, we can learn from what St. Paul has said in the second reading: "May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you" (1Th. 3:12).

Despite our preoccupations with our and the country's problems, let us heed St. Paul's advice to go on loving - God and neighbor. Then, comes Christmas day, our hearts will be ready to receive Jesus.