Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Temple Welcomes her King

Fourth Sunday of Advent Year B

Both the mood and focal theme of Advent has visibly changed on this Fourth Sunday of Advent. In the first three Sundays, there seems to be greater focus on the Second Coming of Christ. The last two Sundays had St John the Baptist as the main protagonist. Today, we shift our focus to the first coming of Christ at the Incarnation, at Christmas and the central figure of our contemplation is Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God. Although the gospel reading narrates the event of the Annunciation, the Church by weaving this gospel account together with the story of King David’s plan to construct the Temple in the first reading, is attempting to draw our attention to more than just the historical figure of the mother of Jesus. Mary is the figure of the Church, and thus she too is the Holy Sanctuary, the Perfect Temple, constructed by God to conceive and house the Word of God.

The Scriptures tells us nothing of Mary's hidden life. The inspired Word of God gives us no word about her Presentation in the Temple, the feast which we celebrate each year on November 21st. However, we do have the testimonies of tradition which are based on accounts which come to us from apostolic times. According to the Proto-evangelium of James, when Mary was three years of age, Joachim and Anne took her to the Temple so that she might be consecrated to the service of the Lord. The legend says that they invited the young girls of the town to walk before her with lighted lamps. As soon as they had reached the Temple, Mary, alone and unhesitatingly, went up the steps of the sanctuary (the apocryphal text speaks of her dancing with joy as she ascended the steps) where she was to remain, living in the contemplation of God and miraculously fed by the Archangel Gabriel, until the day she was espoused to Joseph, shortly before the Annunciation.

In the first reading, the great King David felt uncomfortably guilty that whilst he dwelt in a grand palace, the Lord, by comparison, continued to dwell in a humble tent. Common sense and sincere piety led him to draw up plans to build God an imposing dwelling place. But God intervenes, with words of both criticism and promise. David is forgetting that God built up his entire kingdom from the moment when he made the young shepherd into a king by anointing him. And God has stood by him through all his victories. Yet this grace extends even farther: the house God has begun to build will be brought to conclusion in David’s descendants and ultimately in the great scion in whom the house will find perfection. David’s house will continue in his “Son” and will last forevermore. This is fulfilled in the gospel.

The temple of Jerusalem was a figure of Holy Church and a figure of each Christian. It prefigured our churches and cathedrals, but was also a representation of a temple far more holy and august than any material structure. What then is the true temple? It is the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is here in the gospel, that we see the Temple not built by human hands but by God himself. The virgin, betrothed to the man from the house of David, is chosen by God to be his incomparable temple. God’s Son, brought by the Spirit to her womb, will make his home in her and her entire existence will serve his development into a complete man. God’s work does not first begin with the moment of the Annunciation, rather with the first moment of Mary’s existence.

Therefore in the Blessed Virgin Mary, we see a perfection of all that the Old Testament had already prefigured. She is the Ark, for the Glory of God settled on her, just as the Glory of God descended on the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant. Just as Aaron's Rod sprouted miraculously in the Old Testament, so too, the Virgin Mary has budded forth the Flower of Immortality, Christ our God. On Mt. Sinai, Moses saw the Bush that was burning, but was not consumed. So too, the Virgin Mary bore the fire of Divinity, but was not consumed. In the Exodus, the Israelites were led out of Egypt by a Cloud of Light, symbolising the presence of God in their midst. So too, the Virgin Mary, as the Carmelites were fond of describing her, is a Cloud, bearing God within. Into the Holy of Holies only the High Priest could enter. So too, the womb of the Virgin Mary is the Holy of Holies into which only the Eternal High Priest Christ entered. The Tabernacle was the place where the Glory of God dwelt. So too, the Glory of God dwelt in the Blessed Virgin Mary the Living Tabernacle. It is she who holds within herself not just God’s words; as the the Ark of old held the Commandments of the Law, but the mystical Ark holds within herself the very Word of God Himself, enfleshed.

It is no wonder that St Germanus, in a homily delivered on the occasion of the Presentation of the Theotokos, wrote these words of praise to the our Blessed Lady, “Hail, holy throne of God, divine sanctuary, house of glory, jewel most fair, chosen treasure house, and mercy seat for the whole world, heaven showing forth the glory of God.”

But the Blessed Virgin Mary, the great sanctuary of Incarnate Word, would herself only be a sign of something far greater to come. In the second reading, we hear how God is building for himself a temple that will be complete only when the revelation of the gospel has been “broadcast to pagans everywhere to bring them to the obedience of faith.” This is how St Paul’s letter to Romans ends. Instead of shutting up themselves in their cozy little “Church,” Christians remain open for the “mystery kept secret for endless ages, but now so clear” to them. Far from being confined within the cavernous treasure halls of the Church, reduced once again to heavily guarded secret, the good news of Christ’s coming addresses the world as a whole. The Temple built by Solomon, and the Temple of Mary’s heart built by God, always points beyond itself to a greater edifice, a more magnificent reality planned by God, an edifice that will only be finished when “Christ has put all his enemies under his feet” and “hands over the Kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every other sovereignty and every authority and power.” (1 Cor 15:24-25)

With Christmas just a few days away, we are reminded once again that our Christian faith is a seamless garment that is firmly grounded in the reality of the famous Patristic dictum “For He was made man that we might be made God.” There has been but one true revolution in the history of the world and that is precisely the Incarnation in the flesh of the eternal Logos in the person of the God-man Jesus Christ, whereby the power of sin, corruption, death and the authority of Satan are shattered and the chasm between the uncreated God and His creation is bridged. If the Incarnation is a foundational mystery of the faith then the person of Mary the Theotokos from whom Christ received His flesh and was born also stands at the centre of the faith. A faith in Christ which does not include the veneration of his mother is another faith, another Christianity from that held by the Church. A Christmas without the mother would be a meaningless Christmas, for the Word would not have taken flesh and become the source and summit of our salvation.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Rejoice! The Lord is Near!

Third Sunday of Advent Year B

Have you ever seen an apocalyptic “end-of-the-world” movie that was a cause for celebration? I guess not. Unfortunately, when we think of the end of the world it is often with anything but joyful hearts. The thought of going out with a cataclysmic bang is hardly something to shout about and applaud. From the Mayans to the prophecies of the Irish bishop St Malachy or Nicodemus to modern doomsday preachers, there’s a long list of people who predicted the end of the age. It’s not the triumphant return of Christ in glory which becomes the focus of such prophecies. Rather, we hear about a time of tribulation, war, earthquakes, death and destruction. Catholics, on the other hand, see something altogether different when they envision the end of time.  We see it as the return of Jesus Christ in glory, a time of judgment, yes, but also a time of liberation. We rejoice! Not only do we rejoice when thinking about it, we pray for the coming of that day!

So do we believe in the End Times? Of course we do! For Catholics, the terms “end times” and “last days” refer both to the conclusion of history at some future point, and also—even primarily—to the last two thousand years. It is here that what I’m about to say may come as a big surprise even to Catholics. Yes, we are living in the End Times. The death and resurrection of Christ is the first and decisive act of the End Times. But now we wait for God’s work of salvation to be completed when Christ returns in glory. That is why our Advent celebrations help us to focus on these two comings, the first Coming of Christ at Christmas and His Second Coming at the very end. So, yes, we are living in the end times, they’ve always been the end times, and they’re always going to be the end times. Notice that in every age, there are tribulations, both natural and manmade. And yes, in every age, there will be the forces of Anti-Christ, the ideologies, structures, governments, individuals and corporations who would deny the Kingship and salvific role of Christ. Given the ambivalence of these signs, it would appear that we are continually in the End Times.

But our Christian expectation the End Times is marked by joy and hope because of the object of our contemplation. “By gazing on the risen Christ,” wrote Pope Emeritus Benedict, when he was still Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, “Christianity knew that a most significant coming had already taken place. It no longer proclaimed a pure theology of hope, living from mere expectation of the future, but pointed to a ‘now’ in which the promise had already become present. Such a present was, of course, itself hope, for it bears the future within itself.” “In Christ,” Pope Benedict XVI says in Spe Salvi, his 2007 encyclical on Christian hope, “God has revealed himself. He has already communicated to us the ‘substance' of things to come, and thus the expectation of God acquires a new certainty.” Attempting to describe that substance of things to come, the pope writes: “It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love... life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy.”  

Therefore, we Christians anticipate the End Times not with fear and trembling but with rejoicing. St Paul reminds us in the second reading, “Be happy at all times, pray constantly, and for all things give thanks.” Like the prophet Isaiah in the first reading, the thought of the “end times,” of Christ’s coming, should be met with euphoria, “I exult for joy in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God!” The prophet announces that the coming of the Lord’s messenger will mean healing and liberation to all who are poor, brokenhearted, imprisoned, and captive. This “year of the Lord’s favour” applies to all of us, for all of us are imprisoned by ourselves and captivated by ourselves; far from being uninjured, all of us are so fractured and poverty-stricken that we cannot heal ourselves. The Spirit of God continues to bring healing and liberation and works from within us, just as an organism heals from the inside out. But our duty is not just merely to wait passively. We must actively ensure that the Spirit has opportunity to work in us; we must be guided by Him in discerning good from evil.

Such attitude of hopeful and joyful expectation therefore brings about a livid consciousness that we are witnesses of God’s light while steadfastly denying that we ourselves are the light. Just like St John the Baptist, the closer one comes to God for the purpose of testifying of him, the more clearly one sees the distance between God and creature. The more one vacates space within himself for God, the more he becomes a simple instrument of God, a mere voice that cries in the wilderness, “Make a straight way for the Lord.”

Sometimes we have an image of John the Baptist as an austere ascetic. In depicting the Baptist in this fashion, we tend to forget the joy that is associated with his entire life and vocation. It was him who leapt for joy in his mother Elizabeth’s womb when she encountered the Mother of the Word Incarnate. In the fourth Gospel, St John speaks of the source of the Baptist’s supernatural joy - it is the joy of the best man, who rejoices greatly at hearing the bridegroom’s voice. And thus his humility opened a space within him for true joy, the kind which comes from the real presence of the Lord. So it can be for each one of us. Thus, John stands as a sign for us today on Gaudete Sunday. He points out for each one of us the path to lasting joy; a lifestyle of self emptying – a life marked by humility – we prepare for the coming of the Lord by always holding on this basic principle that defined the Baptist’s life and mission, “He must increase and I must decrease.”  We can know no lasting peace and joy, unless we come to know Christ. Such a way of life leads to continual conversion and transformation as we respond to the gift of grace.
So, this Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, Rejoice Sunday, becomes another opportunity to be joyful
, indeed it is a joy that is greater than it was. In just a matter of days we will celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord. But we do not just commemorate the past. The Liturgy anticipates the future, the coming of our Saviour, our Liberator, the Christ who will bring to completion the good work he has begun in us. The Church as mother and teacher thus proclaims at the beginning of today’s liturgy, using the imperative case - Rejoice! Notice - It is a command! In Latin, Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete : Dominus prope est. In English, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Indeed the Lord is near!”

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Called to Bear Witness to God's Love

Novena to Our Lady of Guadalupe
Feast of St Juan Diego, Seer of Guadalupe - 9th December 2014

 A sense of unworthiness is probably something most of us experience at some time or another. We may feel unworthy for a particular task, unworthy of another's trust, unworthy of another's love. And that's not surprising. We know our failings and our weaknesses better than anyone. I guess this sense of unworthiness is most apparent in the area of our relationship with God. There is awkwardness when confronted with God’s invitation. Why would God choose me? Why me? I don’t think I have it in me to respond to his call, accept his invitation and be a witness to his immense love.  But this hesitation to heed the call of discipleship may have less to do with genuine humility than it has to do with a rather selfish, narcissistic and self-serving cultural influence. We can all recognise the self-centredness of our contemporary culture, a culture that constantly believes that we are self-sufficient and that it all begins and ends with “me”. It’s a culture that makes us believe that you can’t achieve or get anything unless you work for it, or unless you deserve it, or unless you’re born with it. It’s a culture where personal merit counts for everything.

Here is the good news. And trust me, it is good news: God’s love and choice is not about personal merit. It's not all about you. You are loved and chosen in spite of the fact that you don’t deserve it. We are all that lost sheep that the shepherd goes in search of. Now... could that take the pressure off a little? Yes, it can when we come to recognise that the call of discipleship, the call to witness to the love of God is often too heavy for any man or woman. That is why it is sheer humility that recognises that we can accomplish nothing without Divine Assistance, without being propped and held up by grace itself. It is a recognition of the truth, albeit a painful one, that Christ actually doesn’t need us. It may not sound like it, but that's Good News. Why? Because none of us are capable, on our own, of fulfilling the good works that God has called us to. We can't make it on our own, and if everything relied upon else, it'd be a disaster. Instead, we need Him. We - priests and laity alike - need to turn over everything to Him, holding nothing back, and entrusting all to the Holy Spirit.

If our perpetual sense of unworthiness makes us question God’s choice, how much more could we question the choice of Juan Diego, the seer of Guadalupe, whose feast we celebrate today. Why would God grant this singular privilege of witnessing the Marian apparition to this simple Aztec peasant, a new convert to Catholicism, whose simple faith was nourished by the most basic of catechesis? In fact, Juan Diego himself was keenly aware of his unworthiness when entrusted with the mission of delivering Our Lady’s message to the bishop, “I am a nobody, I am a small rope, a tiny ladder, the tail end, a leaf.” “I beg you to entrust your message to someone more known and respected so that he will believe it. I am only a simple Indian whom you have sent as a messenger to an important person.”

Without refuting this, but recognising his humility, it was Mary who addressed him lovingly as “Juanito, Juan Dieguito”, "the most humble of my sons", "my son the least", "my little dear". “My dearest son, you must understand that there are many more noble men to whom I could have entrusted my message and yet, it is because of you that my plan will succeed.” Yes, there were certainly many other more credible, more qualified candidates to witness to our Lady’s favour. And yet it was to this “little one” that found favour in Mary’s eye.

In Juan Diego, we indeed see the example of one who has been called and chosen to bear witness to God’s love. Such love is truly gratuitous, it is unconditional and unmerited. The lesson provided in the choice of this simple witness is that a true gift or giving is not to be based on receiver’s merit or else it is a reward: It should not be based on the condition of recipient’s worthiness but of the willingness and generosity of the giver. In fact God, through our Blessed Mother, chose to grant this favour to Juan Diego, though he was unworthy of it. That in itself is testimony of the depth of God’s love.

But if the choice had nothing to do with Juan Diego, what part did he play? What part can we play in this whole divine saga of God choosing us to be his witnesses. Here is the truth, a truth that has been spelt out throughout the pages of Sacred Scripture and across the Christian centuries in the life testimonies of saints, confessors and martyrs: The act of giving always create choices or conditions: the acceptance or rejection. Receiving requires unconditional acceptance; you can have it if you will accept it. You can’t have it if you reject it. And so we have the prophets, the apostles, the saints and martyrs – they were presented with the choice of either accepting or rejecting God’s choice of them. And they chose it, as did Juan Diego.

Often, it's when we are at our lowest, when we have failed, when we are most acutely aware of our weakness, that the Lord comes to us and works his wonders. It is to the lost sheep that the Shepherd comes in search of. And it's then we have to trust in him, to launch out into deep water, knowing that it's not our strength or our talents that matter, but his. St John Chrysostom reminds us that as long as we are sheep, we overcome and, though surrounded by countless wolves, we emerge victorious; but if we turn into wolves, we are overcome, for we lose the shepherd’s help.” At every mass, we utter the act of humility when the Body of Christ is lifted up, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.” And at every mass, we witness the great miracle of his love – the Eucharist!

St Paul was undoubtedly speaking of the likes of Juan Diego, when he wrote,  “God chose what is low and despised in the world ... so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor 1:28,29). It takes a long time for most of us to realise our true stature before the Lord. And that is why, from time to time, God lifts up a saintly person, one like Juan Diego and invites us to hear Him say with Jesus, the Son of Mary, "I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike." Mt 11:25

I’m sure that many of you are aware that St John Paul II named Our Lady of Guadalupe, or Our Lady of the Tepeyac Hill as the ‘Star of Evangelisation.’ And the main thing for that title is because of what happened afterwards; so many conversions took place. Till that time, Christianity was seen as a foreign religion and tool at the hand of the invading colonialists. But after the apparitions to St Juan Diego, thousands of Indians began flocking everyday to the missionary centres seeking baptism. According to records, some priests had to baptise as many as six thousand people a day. This evinces that conversion is always the work of God, not that of men. We are merely poor instruments who bear witness to his Love.

Today, we continue to invoke the prayers of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Star of Evangelisation, we pray for the grace and the courage to bear witness to God’s immense love. And if there is still anyone out there who feels intimidated, who still feels fettered and weighed down by a sense of unworthiness, that we are not good enough or could never measure up to God’s demands, well let’s remember St Juan Diego – a living proof that you need not be someone important, eloquent, well-educated, talented or good at public speaking to be a witness of God’s love. The fact that you are not all these things and yet God has chosen you is proof enough of the message you’ve been commissioned to proclaim.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Advent begins with Repentance

Second Sunday of Advent Year B

The secular world has begun celebrating Christmas; if you haven’t already notice. In some malls, the tinsels and Christmas trees came up as soon as the Deepavali decorations were taken down and in some places, even before they were stored away. Yes, the store decorations have been up for some time and there are Christmas (as well as “holiday”) parties on our social agendas during the month of December. Perhaps, the only people that seems altogether insulated from this and who zealously work to resist this are the ones found in Church, especially the Parish Priest.

In spite of the festive mood, the Church obstinately seems to hold unto a wet blanket sort of a demeanour, one which deliberately tries to dampen our celebrations. Instead of a celebratory atmosphere, there is an air of austerity during this period. Everything seems toned down to the bare minimum. Take for example, the Mass during this season, we immediately note a less festive setting.  Fewer floral arrangements, if any, adorn the church.  There’s a better than fifty per cent chance you’ll hear some unfamiliar medieval sounding hymn (again, not sung in a particularly festive manner) then a Christmas carol many of us had been eagerly waiting to hear and sing since the beginning of the year.  We don’t get to sing the Gloria either during the opening Rites.  The liturgical colour for vestments is purple as in the penitential season of Lent (or a funeral). Isn’t Advent a run up to Christmas and shouldn’t it therefore be proximate preparation for this most joyous celebration of the year? Isn’t this sober mood overdone?

Changing popular customs, especially in connection with preparation for Christmas, have diminished appreciation of the Advent season. Something of a holiday mood of Christmas appears now to be anticipated in the days of the Advent season. As a result, this season has unfortunately lost in great measure the role of penitential preparation for Christmas that it once had. Advent was originally a penitential season, not a period of pre-Christmas frenzied shopping, frivolous caroling nor drunken partying. 

No, Advent is about repentance. That is why today, we hear the story of how John the Baptist went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. His ministry resonates with the call of the Prophet Isaiah, “Prepare the Way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” And this is what we are about in Advent. In Advent we are preparing for the coming of Jesus. We are preparing, in the first instance, for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. And we all enjoy making the practical preparation to celebrate the feast; we start to buy and wrap up presents. We plan Christmas dinners and parties and stock up the refrigerator with good food. And all these practical preparations are important because Christmas is an important feast and we want to celebrate it well.

But when John the Baptist tells people to “Prepare the way of the Lord” I don’t think he is expecting his listeners to go out shopping for presents! John the Baptist, who lives in the wilderness, is not thinking about decorating houses. John the Baptist, who eats locusts and wild honey, isn’t thinking about stocking up the refrigerator with food. John the Baptist, who wears camel’s hair with a leather belt isn’t thinking about fine clothes. Well what is he thinking about? John the Baptist is thinking of repentance as the essential preparation for the coming of Jesus. What would you do if you knew that Jesus was coming tomorrow? What would be on the top of your to-do-list if you knew the world was going to end this evening? I guess the last thing would be to put up your Christmas tree, right? Heading for the confessional seems pretty important, even desperately urgent.

Repentance. Let’s pause for a moment and think about this word, which is so alien to our times, so completely counter cultural. What does the word Repentance mean? Repentance means putting God in the first place in our lives and making sure that everything else finds its rightful places in our lives under God. Repentance means letting go of our own will, in order to follow the things that God wills for us. It means turning away from sin and all rebellion against God, in order to be obedient to God and to follow him in all that he wants from us. Repentance means owning up to our sin, our human frailties, our fears, our inner hurts and entrusting all these to God’s mercy and compassion. In this way we become free of sin, from fears, from hurts and they cease to have power over us. This allows us to walk in the way of God without carrying loads of baggage.

Repentance therefore is not a one time thing. It is a process that goes on for a lifetime. Little by little we orientate ourselves ever more perfectly in God’s love for us. Repentance is about returning our gaze to God, changing the direction of our life in order to face, to see and receive our coming salvation. Repentance means knowing our need of God. In turning our lives around, we come to recognise that our self-sufficiency is inadequate and that we need to cooperate with God in our own salvation.

But talk of repentance makes modern-day Christians nervous. In fact, the preaching of repentance is one of the main reasons some people stay away from the Church. We hate it when the homilies seem to hammer sin and seemed bent on making us feel guilty. We rush to assert that Jesus isn't really like that, he came out of love to help us rather than judge us. This explains why repentance is such a rarity today. It’s because many have become numbed to the voice of their conscience. So many are lost because they have lost the sense of sin. One of the most popular myths of our age is that if you can claim to be a victim, you're automatically sinless. Today, we would hide behind the disfunctionality of our childhood and society, and choose to blame someone else for our actions, rather than to face up to our own sinfulness.

But our penitence is not the penitence of those who have no hope of forgiveness, but of those who have been redeemed by the dying and rising of Jesus the Lord. Thus our penitence is life-giving and not death dealing. Penitence is not the result of a guilt-ridden neurosis but the general consequence of humble admission of responsibility. Repentance is indeed the necessary doorway to the spiritual life, the only way to begin and the only way to grow in spiritual maturity. Anything else is foolishness and self-delusion. Only repentance is brute-honest enough, and joyous enough, to bring us all the way home.

So as we continue our journey to Christmas, we need to repent of our comfortableness with  sin.  Repent of our self-centeredness, which makes Christ and His Church one of the lowest priorities in our lives. Repent of worshiping our idols of popularity, materialism and power – these have become our new religion.  Repent of our all-consuming dedication to the shallow, temporary things of this world, and of our casual attitude toward Christ and the demands he makes of us. We need to come out into the wilderness where God reforms and transforms His beloved People – on His terms and not our own. Avail yourself to the very reason Jesus came as a Child to Bethlehem: he come down to be among sinners. Yes, but he came to call us into the Kingdom of Light. So prepare the Way of the Lord!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Waiting vigilantly

First Sunday of Advent Year B

No one likes waiting, seriously. The proliferation of instant foodstuffs on supermarket shelves, speedy internet connections, online banking is evidence of it. Who likes to wait in long lines and be subjected to the humiliation of having to wait your turn? No, we simply have no time for waiting. When we are forced to wait, we believe that there is something seriously wrong with the system or the device. When an elevator takes a long to time to arrive, we give the button another series of rapid jabs. Waiting drives us crazy. So we fight it. Rushing, running, planning, speeding, doing. Instant gratification is our answer to waiting. Waiting time is wasted time, and none of us can afford to waste even a minute.  

But didn’t our parents and today’s parents still teach us how to wait patiently. They say things like – “No, not now, you can have that when you're older.” “Just wait a while and I'll get it for you.” “Wait until your birthday.” “Wait a bit, and just be patient.” “Wait, don’t open your present yet. Wait, don’t start singing Christmas carols yet. It isn’t Christmas!” But if the last example is anything to go by, waiting is a hard lesson to learn.

So what do we do when God asks us to wait? We do what we do when anyone else asks us to wait. We fight it. We rebel. When God asks us to wait we respond by doing. We transfer our busy-ness from the life of the world into the life of the Kingdom. We begin to interpret our busy-ness as being busy with the work of the Kingdom. We fight God’s call to wait because we mistakenly define waiting as worthlessness, as waste, as doing nothing. But what if we’re wrong? What if there is merit in waiting, even grace?

Advent is a time of waiting. But how are we to wait? It is important to note that this kind of waiting is not waiting passively. On the contrary, waiting for God is an active waiting. It requires not that we do nothing, but that we do only what we can do. Waiting actively means not trying to do God’s work for Him. For those who faithfully waited for God’s defining intervention in liberating Israel from its woes, God broke into the world in a new and unexpected way. The Word became flesh - that was never expected to be part of the deal. Active waiting requires profound humility – we must know our limits. We cannot set the timetable, we cannot determine the action plan, we cannot dictate the solution. Which, in turn, requires slowing down, listening and making ourselves vulnerable to God’s will and plans. Therefore, waiting makes us keep in step with God’s timing, to prepare us for what He wants to give us in life, and to sift our motives.

Active waiting requires us to do exactly what Jesus tells his disciples today, “Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come.” Our Church year begins with this Gospel that makes a call for vigilant waiting, since the time of the Lord’s coming is uncertain. Notice here that Christmas has a firm date, but the Lord’s coming into our life and death, into the life and consummation of the Church does not. It is as if, the Church, through the liturgical year, provides us with this constant caution and exhortation, that Advent could be at any time, at any place, and on any occasion. And so we must always be on our guard, we must always be awake, because we will never be able to predict when the Lord will come and where we must give an account of the time and opportunities that have been entrusted to us.

In today’s gospel, Jesus gives us a parable about a man who goes on a journey. He doesn’t tell his servants where he is going or when he will come home again. He leaves his servants in charge of his home and property and gives them work to do while he is away. He then leaves and his last word to his servants as he closes the front door is to be diligent and ready for his return, whenever that might be.

There is an element of danger implicit in this parable. From this and other, similar teachings of Jesus we learn that danger may come from without or within. The danger that comes from without is often represented by the darkness of night and the grim possibility that some robber, under cover of the darkness, will dig through the earthen walls of the house to steal what is inside. This is representative of the very real, destructive evil of sin in our world. The danger that comes from within is the danger of becoming lax about one's behaviour or becoming indifferent to the danger or to the master's return - perhaps becoming drunk, mistreating the other servants, or both. Whatever the source of the danger, the only effective approach is to be alert, careful - watchful. At one level, it means that we need to be watchful against our sworn enemy the devil, to guard against sin and the occasions of sin. To be watchful also means doing the work the Master has assigned us to do. Though, we may all have different responsibilities and duties, each have to be accountable to the Master over that which has been assigned to him or to her. 

We are in the time between Jesus’ first and second comings and Jesus has told us to watch and wait, doing the jobs he has given us to do. As we do unto others as he did unto us; when we give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, give clothes to the poor and visit those who are sick or in jail; as we make disciples of all nations, we are working and waiting for Christ’s return. We may not know the date, time or circumstances of his return. But one thing that we can know from the scriptures -  Jesus will return, and like the servant in the parable, his absence must not lull us into forgetting about the master and what he wants us to do, but to actively wait and be prepared for whenever that moment of his arrival might be.

So, let us wait with great expectancy and hope. The work of the kingdom of God, the work of the Master has been entrusted to you and me, his servants. And he expects us to be faithful servants. There is little point in worrying and fretting over when the master will return. Neither should we be lulled into a complacency that would dull our sense of readiness for his return. The most important concern we have is that we faithfully carry out the work he has given us to do so that when he does return he will find us faithfully working on those tasks he has given us. As faithful servants, we must “wait.” Yes, we must “wait,” for to wait is the mark of obedience, the expression of humility, and the sign of our willingness to do the Master’s will.