Almost a year since the outbreak of the COVID pandemic, people have become so weary observing health protocols and movement restrictions. A general sense of fatigue and resignation is infecting most, prompting more and more people to venture out of their homes as more businesses begin to reopen. As a result, many flout health measures despite warnings from health authorities not to let our guard down because the virus is still present and lurking to pounce on its next victim or victims. The atmosphere is so desolate and downcast so that many may be wondering whether it is ever fitting to be joyful, much less celebrate Christmas.
The Gospel reading for this first Sunday of Advent gives us a renewed impetus to truly welcome Christ with joyful hearts and not brood on the unhappiness and difficulties of the moment. The constant message of the One who was incarnated is a message of hope and peace.
In the scripture, Jesus enjoins his disciples to be alert and vigilant because the Lord is coming. Surely, this is the time for prayerful vigilance because God will touch our hearts and minds to demonstrate his guiding presence. He comes not yesterday, not tomorrow, but today, now! The one true God.
Even as we are grappling with the pandemic and many natural as well as man-made calamities, the Lord comes, for he is not a detached or unconcerned God, but a God who abides by and in us even during the most difficult of times.
More than a time for vigilance and renewed commitment to the Lord, the season of Advent is a time for joy and salvation. For in this season, we welcome the mystery of the Word Incarnate who brought us the light of salvation. It is thus but fitting that we likewise incarnate this mystery in our lives and radiate this light amidst the darkness engulfing the world right now because of sin, apathy, and indifference, injustice, and sickness.
As Saint John Henry Newman reminded us in a homily for the Advent Season: “Advent is a time of waiting, it is a time of joy because the coming of Christ is not only a gift of grace and salvation. It is also a time of commitment because it motivates us to live the present as a time of responsibility and vigilance. This “vigilance” means the necessity, the urgency of an industrious, living ‘”wait.”
To make all this happen, then we need to wake up, as we are warned by the apostle to the Gentiles, in today’s reading to the Romans: “Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed (Rm 13:11).”
Pope Francis pointed out how Advent informs the nature of the human journey two-fold – first as a journey to rediscover God and second, God’s journey to embrace his beloved people. This journey never comes to an end. Just as in each of our lives, we always need to begin again, to get up again, to rediscover the meaning of the goal of our lives, so also for the great human family it is always necessary to rediscover the common horizon toward which we are journeying. For the Vicar of Christ, this is the horizon of hope, the horizon that makes for a good journey.
According to the Pope, the model of this spiritual disposition, of this way of being and journeying in life, is the Virgin Mary. A simple girl from the country who carries within her heart the fullness of hope in God! In her womb, God’s hope took flesh, it became man, it became history: Jesus Christ. Her Magnificat is the canticle of the People of God on a journey, and of all men and women who hope in God and in the power of his mercy.
We can only truly understand the essence of Christ’s coming this Advent, despite the pain and suffering brought about by the pandemic and calamities that visit us, if we stay alert and able to recognize even the smallest sign of the Lord’s coming because we don’t know the hour in which He will arrive. If we stay alert and vigilant to protect our communities against COVID infection, the more reason should we be sensitive and cognizant of the reality of the Lord’s coming so that we can meaningfully and truly experience the joy of this season.
In seeing the meaning of Advent, our hope is not naïve but is informed, grounded on the love of an all-powerful God who loves us completely and unconditionally.
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