PERSEVERING IN THE WORD OF JESUS
(A biblical refection on the FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT [Year A] – 27 November 2016)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 24:37-44
First Reading: Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalms: Psalm 122:1-2,4-9; Second Reading: Romans 13:11-14
The Scripture Text
As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left. Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matthew 24:37-44 RSV)
Today, the first Sunday of Advent, marks the beginning of a period of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Christ, our Savior, at Christmas. All the readings in the Mass advise us most urgently to make ourselves ready, to be on the alert, to turn aside from our sinful ways, and give more time to God in our lives. “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord”, Isaiah says in the first reading. Let us not live lives of darkness and of sin, Saint Paul admonishes his listeners; but let us put on the armor of God’s grace, and appear in the light, meaning that our consciences should have nothing to hide at any time, but rather be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit directing them. “Be vigilant, stay awake”, the Gospel warns, at any moment you may be called upon to make an eternal choice, and that as unexpectedly as the people who were swallowed up by the Flood, in the time of Noah.
Outwardly, people may appear the same, like the men working in the fields or the women grinding at the millstone, but inwardly they have responded differently to the graces of God has given them. Thus they are in varying states of preparedness for what is to come, with the result that while some will be taken into God’s Kingdom, others will be left or rejected. This is true of every single individual, for as we pass through life we are all being faced with a choice between two ways, either that of slavery to evil tendencies in our lives, which we call sin, or, on the other hand, that of grace, which is allowing Jesus Christ be our guide and exemplar in all that we do.
It is only when we sincerely try to model our lives on that of Christ that our spirits will experience real freedom. Jesus Himself said to the Jews, “If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32). Persevering in the word of Jesus demands that we listen to it, as it comes to us from out the scriptures and from within our consciences; also that we think about it and study its requirements, and that we put into action what we have learned.
The true disciple of Christ asks the question, “What am I setting before myself as the main purpose of my life?” My career, the acquisition of material possessions, the pursuit of pleasure, or the service of God and my neighbor? The truth of Jesus will teach us what things are really important and what are not. Furthermore, discipleship of Christ brings its own rewards. It brings freedom from fear, fear about oneself, fear about one’s ability to cope with life, fear about contradiction and opposition from others, fear about death and the uncertainty of life thereafter. Saint John wrote, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love” (1 John 4:18).
If we end up having no love or reverence towards God, no respect or consideration or pity towards others, then we will have reached the stage of choosing to be lost, as Jesus, in His prayer at the Last Supper, said of Judas. “Holy Father, keep them in Thy name, which Thou hast given Me, that they may be one, even as We are one. While I was with them, I kept them in Thy name, which Thou hast given Me; I have guarded them, and none of them is lost but the son of perdition, that the scripture might be fulfilled” (John 17:11-12). This is what should really frighten us, that the choice of our own destiny for all eternity rests entirely with ourselves.
If the Son of Man comes unexpectedly and finds us wanting, then we, who were part of the divine plans and designs from the moment of creation, we who were born to love, to be united with our Creator for ever in heaven, we will depart this world, and find ourselves unloving, frustrated by our rejection of love, utterly incapable of any response to the love of God who will still love us. To prevent such a tragedy, it is necessary for us from time to time to take a critical look at ourselves, at the kind of lives we are leading, the response we are making to God’s grace. We should take note of our patterns of behavior, but far more importantly our sets of values, what we regard as important in life.
Advent is a time when we ought to do precisely this. “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,” the first reading tells us, “to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us His ways, and that we may walk in His paths” (Isaiah 2:3). The second reading (Romans 13:11-14) is of special significance in that it finally brought about the conversion of Saint Augustine after he has opened the New Testament at random at that very passage, and please God it will help us to look into our own lives and, if needs be, change them too.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, I want to devote Advent to preparing for Your coming into the world. Help me to immerse myself in Your love through the sacraments, prayer, Scripture, and repentance. Let the darkness of my sins give way to Your irresistible light. Thank You, Lord Jesus. Amen.
Jakarta, 25 November 2016
A Christian Pilgrim