“Communicating hope and trust in our time.”

- Pope Francis

“Rend the heavens and come down”

1st Sunday of Advent, Year B (Mark 13:33-37)
December 3, 2017

Rev. Eutiquio B. Belizar, Jr., SThD

DID you ever experience having an important guest whose coming you eagerly waited for but when he/she actually arrived, you were sound asleep or busy with something else? Quite a number of times already, you could say with me. It’s pretty common.

If so, Advent would be a lot easier for you to understand and respond to.
Some people say that some priests especially in the Philippines are “Advent” agents. They arrive for Mass at a time people do not expect (i.e., either too late or too early [smile]). Advent is from the Latin “adventus” which means “coming” or “arrival”. By the instinct of faith we know who we are waiting for, Jesus himself, the Messiah to be born as a little baby on Christmas Day. Like any coming, there is an element of waiting.

Isaiah in the first reading expresses Israel’s eager but impatient waiting implicitly for a Savior as it surveys the destruction of its land and its own sins. Back from their Babylonian exile, Isaiah sees in their ruined homeland the consequences of their sins as a people. Reading it makes one think of oneself and one’s share in the wrongdoings being committed in the Philippines and the world society at large. “Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?” Seeing the futility of mere human efforts in the rebuilding of Israel, the prophet gives voice to Israel’s urgent prayer which is also our prayer pervading the Advent season and beyond: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down…”

When we see the unabated killings in the Philippines related to the drug war, the communist insurgency, terrorist attacks and watch helplessly as North Korea brandishes its latest nuclear weapons and the American president’s warning of North Korea being “totally destroyed” in a nuclear war, or the suicide bombers and shooters in the Middle East, Africa and the West, who would not beg in prayer with Isaiah, “Lord, please rend the heavens and come down”? Pope Francis recently lamented that the world is again on the verge of war. He too must be praying this Advent prayer. We Christians see this prayer being answered at the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist when “ascending from the water Jesus saw the heavens rent open and the Spirit descending, and remaining with him. Then there was a voice from heaven: ‘You are my Son. On you my favor rests’” (Mk 1:10-11).

St Paul in the second reading also speaks of waiting that Corinthian Christians model for us. That is to say, they do not wait passively, as when we wait for food to be served in a restaurant. Ironically it’s “the waiters” we wait for. (Isn’t “waiter” a misnomer and properly refers to the customer? Oh, whatever.) Our waiting should be active because the Spirit has given each of us in our baptism “spiritual gifts” that we must use as we “wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus [Christ]” (1 Cor 1:7). This is a special insight into the charismatic gifts that the Corinthian Christians, like some Christians today, see as a badge of honor. No, rather they are meant for our active waiting for the Lord’s coming, since we are to use them to serve our community and society.

Jesus himself in our Gospel makes clear through the parable of the trusted servants that he wants us to use our gifts to wait actively for his coming by “watching” creatively. How? By serving our Master through faithfulness to our responsibilities. “He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own task”, with the command, “Do not let him come suddenly and catch you asleep” (Mk 13:34, 36). I know a number of fathers who not only “work their butts off” trying to support their family’s needs and their children’s education but also lead them in Sunday worship at Mass or in active participation in parish apostolic works. I know of mothers who not only feed their children with material food but also with religious instruction at home. I know of children who do not take their talents for granted but develop them through study and hard work so they could contribute later to their family’s welfare and that of their community. These are people who actively wait for the Lord’s coming, even if many times they are not self-conscious. When St. (Mother) Teresa of Kolkatta was invited by the late Blessed Paul VI to Rome, some other nuns there complained, “But we are already too many and have no work.” The saintly nun, then listening intently, said: “In that case I’ll show you where to find it.” St. Mother Teresa is our model of creative and active waiting for the Lord. While others passively waited, she actively watched by serving the Lord in the least of his brethren.

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