Call to vigilance

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

1st Sunday of Advent

With the start of Advent today, we begin the period of expectation and waiting for the coming of our Savior — His birth on the first Christmas day. But actually, the Lord comes to us in three ways.

The first coming of Jesus had already taken place when the "Word became flesh." He then came as our Savior. This was the event long awaited for by the Jews of the Old Testament. During Advent, we relive in our own lives their experience of waiting for the Lord's coming as our way of preparing for the anniversary of His birth. Like them, we long for the day when the Prince of Peace would so change people's heart that as we have seen in the first reading (Isa. 2:1–5), we "shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again."

The second coming is the return of Jesus in the "end time." Jesus who is now seated at the right hand of the Father will come again but this time as Judge of both the living and the dead.

The third coming is situated between the first two comings. It is Jesus' coming into our hearts here and now to become our personal Savior — if we so allow Him.

The gospel reading (Mt. 24: 37–44) talks about the second and final coming of Jesus. This was then a burning issue among the early Christians. Being persecuted then, they expected to be delivered from it with the return of Jesus. His response to this: "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." Not knowing when He would come again, Jesus urged for watchfulness and vigilance on their part: "Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come." To be watchful and vigilant means to "throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light" and to "conduct ourselves properly as in the day" (Rom. 13:12–13). To illustrate this, Jesus tells them two brief stories.

The first is the story about what happened to the people in the time of Noah when the Great Flood wiped away sinful humanity. They were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. This was not unusual and there was nothing wrong with it. What they did wrong was in not living up to their call as children of the Covenant which God entered into with them beginning with their father Abraham: they were to be His people and He was to be their God. But though God was always faithful to it, they were not. Instead, they did what was abominable in God's sight: they worshipped idols. Signs were sent to warn them against their infidelity but they ignored them. In His displeasure, God wiped them off the face of the earth with the Great Flood. Only Noah and his family who remained faithful to the Covenant were saved.

What people were doing before the Flood, people still do today. In our day, specially in this age of materialism and consumerism, we as a people no longer worship molten idols. But worship idols we still do — wealth, power and fame. We have so filled our mind and heart with our desire for them that we have no room there for anything else. We have been warned repeatedly against their evil but we do not seem to listen. Thus Jesus, Who has already come into the world and is only too willing to come into our heart, can not do so. Or rather, we do not allow Him to do so. Thus our situation now is no different than in Noah's time or in Jesus' words, "As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man."

The second story is about the thief in the night. As we know, a thief never telegraphs ahead his timetable. Otherwise, the owner of the house would be ready for him.

Comparing Jesus to a thief in the night is a beautiful image. Like a thief, He will come to break into our heart when we least expect it. He will come to open what is closed - our heart which is filled with everything else but the desire for God. But if we are vigilant and watchful, then we will be ready to welcome Him when He does come.

Advent is a call to watchfulness and vigilance specially as regards the coming of Jesus into our hearts. Thus Jesus' admonition: "So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."

At Jesus' birth, except for a small "remnant," most of the Jews did not recognize Him as the promised Savior. This was because their interests and attention were focussed everywhere else except on God. Advent reminds us not to repeat the same mistake as it will have terrible repercussions in our lives. Rather, Advent invites us to be like the "remnant" of old who were always on the watch for the coming of the Savior and thus were ready to receive Him when He came.