29 November 2009 First Sunday of Advent
Jer 33, 14-16; Psalm 25; 1 Thes 3, 12 – 4,2; Luke 21, 25-36
Note: I would like to share with you four dimensions of Advent. Each dimension will correspond to the four Sundays of the liturgical season. And just as it prepares us for the Christmas season, we too are being lead to ally with God’s plan to save humankind. So the next four Sundays will have a common thread. It will have four parts.
In her most influential book, The Human Condition, the German-Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt said that we are in a state of chaos and confusion. Basically, we are insecure of the future because it is always uncertain. We cannot control what will happen. We cannot determine its outcome. We are constantly anxious by what will be. In addition, we are troubled by our past. We have been hurt and wounded. We have relationships wanting for a closure. We have a dark history that we want to forget but unfortunately it continues to haunt us. We have secrets we do not want to disclose or else we fear that we will be rejected or our names be tarnished. But Arendt maintains that there are two factors that keep us at bay. Promises secures the uncertain future and forgiveness undoes the mistakes of the past.
The first Sunday of Advent tackles the uncertain future. It tells us that God promises us a safe and secure future. It tells us that God fulfills His promises. The first reading from Jeremiah says:
“The days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah. In those days, in that time, I will raise up for David a just shoot ; he shall do what is right and just in the land. In those days Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure; this is what they shall call her: “The LORD our justice.”
In fact, theology teaches us that the whole of the Old Testament can be summarized by the word, promise. God makes a promise, and then, as the coming of Jesus dawns, will actively keep His word. Because of that, Hannah Arendt says, that the Judeo-Christian religion is built on a promise: on the covenant of God with Abraham. Promises therefore are sacred to us, because the very One who made the first move to promise is God Himself.
What then is the appropriate response to a promise? Since God keeps and fulfills His promise, we are to hinge our lives on it. We are to trust that God will continually remember us. Scripture reminds us that we are to keep our gaze on Him and on Him alone. We are to train our minds and our hearts to behold God all the time; to have Him as our one and only desire. This is where we find the theme of waiting in the season of Advent.
Have you ever waited in line for a ride home? Or queued for a movie or a game? Or experienced being in a long television series, faithfully watching every episode until its conclusion? Waiting makes the heart long for what it truly desires. It helps us focus on what we truly want. We will not wait if there is an alternative — as we can always choose another movie and postpone watching the movie that has the longest line. But ask the people in malls who waited for as long as an hour and a half for “New Moon” — they wouldn’t settle for less.
We do experience some form of waiting. Many of us would like to find where we ultimately belong in the greater scheme of things. We have our dream jobs, so we continually apply and go through series of interviews. Some are waiting for the promise of a brighter future that is partially settled by a diploma. Some are waiting for the time when they meet their partners who will be “perfect for them”; or the time of a marriage proposal. The longer we wait, the more precious it becomes. In all of these moments of waiting, the heart is shaped by that one and only desire. It makes the heart fall in love to the only One.
Fr. Pedro Arrupe SJ, former General of the Jesuits, said, “What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, what you know that breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything.”
And thus the first season of Advent has a corresponding grace: we pray that God will teach us to focus on Him alone; to gaze and put our trust in His promises. That whatever happens in the future, as the Gospel warns us of the signs of confusion and perplexity in nature and in relationships among people, God will not forget His promise to save us. He will keep us safe and prepare for us a secure dwelling place.
In the meantime, we relish every opportunity to wait for that One we truly desire.