Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Christmas Story

It’s so wonderful to be virtually with y’all this day as we celebrate the birth of our Savior! It’s an event that was truly a miracle of the highest order – a divine affirmation of just how much God loves us and of the extent of that love for the whole of Creation. Today our hearts are filled with joy and wonder as we celebrate and give thanks to God for His incredible gifting of His only beloved Son.

Now, I’m not sure if you all are aware of just how unbelievable the Christmas story is. And my guess is that some of you no longer regard it to be such. Part of the problem is that you’ve heard it so many times. For so many Christmases now, you had been constantly reminded that Christmas is all about that Greatest Gift of Love; that Christmas is about God’s sending of His begotten Son and that it is all about the “Word becoming Flesh and dwelt among us. You’ve heard that preached to you for so many times. Hence, it has become so familiar that for some, it no longer amazes nor does it fill you with wonder and awe.

I feel sorry for those who have lost interest in the Christmas Story mainly because of too much theologizing or exegetical emphasis by those who preach about it. Perhaps, it would do us some good if we were to just listen to the Christmas Story, say, as a child would hear a remarkable story for the first time.

The Christmas Story begins.

“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see-- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!" 

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:1-20)

Is this not an amazing story?  Of course, it is! The Christmas Story, with the limelight focused on Christ-child laid on that manger in the small town of Bethlehem, two thousand years ago, continues to spawn awe and wonder. Indeed, how wonderful it is to hear of how God’s plan from the earliest of times became a reality. The world had been readied for this child’s coming for a very long time and now, in the fullness of time, that glorious day had finally come.

And the Promised One did come but not as they had thought. This Messiah came not as a conqueror waiting to wield political or military power. No, this king came as a tiny, defenseless child – vulnerable, innocent and dependent for his needs of sustenance and shelter. 

Not only was the idea of a Messiah itself somewhat incredible to believe, but so also was the way in which He came onto the scene. God sent His only begotten Son as the fulfillment of the promise once made. God’s Son, being born of the Virgin Mary, walked amongst us. It tells us something about our God and His ways. It’s a story of how Heaven met Earth. It shows the huge difference between God’s ways and ours, between the ways God sees the world and our ways of seeing it, between the choices we would make if we were in control and the choices of the One who knows what’s best.

God chose to come as a tiny child simply so he could surprise us; and expand the boundaries of our understanding, and see him in a way no one had seen before. This God was not only the mighty, powerful, all-knowing master of all of human history but also a God who was gentle, meek, loving, merciful and kind. This face of God was unlike anything most people could imagine, like the story of that first Christmas itself.

My dear friends in Christ, we are in solidarity with the rest of the Christian Community throughout the world not simply to remember something that happened two thousand years ago. No, today we gather to celebrate and give thanks to God for that which he continues to do in our lives. Jesus may have been born of Mary centuries ago, but so can he be re-born within each of us this day and every day – every time we invite him in and allow him into every corner and circumstance of our lives. 

Our lives become the “pseudo-mangers” upon which the Christ-child is born anew this very day. But it’s not going to happen on our terms. It will be entirely on God’s terms and if that first Christmas tells us anything, Jesus would likely come in a way that will totally surprise us.

So, maybe, just before the celebration is over, we could take a little time to reflect on our lives and God’s role in it.  Each year at this time I try to ask myself a few questions, like, where in my life do I need God to be born anew this Christmas? In what circumstance of my life do I have the most difficulty finding God? In which of my relationships do I seem to have little room for God? And the one I find most inclined to reflect on – what unlikely way is God trying to come to me?

Hopefully, you too will spend some time reflecting on similar questions. When you shall have the answers to your questions, offer your lives as the “manger” for the Christ-child and pray earnestly that God will grant such petition.

That’s the real miracle of Christmas – that our God not only entered into our world two thousand years ago, but that he wants to do that very thing in you and me. God wants to break into and dwell within us and in every circumstance in which we find ourselves. And he desires this for no other reason than that he loves us. God loves us beyond our wildest imaginations, so much so that he came to dwell with us not once a long time ago but right now, in you and me, in this very time and place.

Merry Christmas to everyone!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Do you believe in angels?

One forgivable misconception that Christians hold on so dearly is their presumed ownership of ‘angels’!  Most of us Christians would like to think that angels are exclusively within the domain of Christianity and that it sounds sacrilegious to think otherwise. 

This is quite understandable in view of the fact that angels are in more than just a few biblical stories. 

We read about them both in the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible and because these Holy Writings are exclusive to the Christian religion, it follows that ‘angels’ ought to be under the sole purview of Christianity.

While this may sound logical, such is not really the case. Angels are present not only in the Holy Bible of the Christian religion but are also in the Hebrew Scriptures of the Jewish religion. The Q’uran of the Islam religion also talks about it. Yes, angels are very much present in other world religions.

And just to extend the breadth of the angel phenomenon, the entertainment industry rakes a huge profit from it along with the rest of the business world that thrive in these financial advantages.

As a young boy, I’ve always been fascinated by angels. I remember wondering whether I’ll ever meet my ‘Guardian Angel’ and whether stories about winged creatures were real. Do you believe in angels? I still do!

I have to admit that I have never fully outgrown my fascination about angels.  It has stayed with me all these years but is no longer about them having wings or shining radiance as pictured in many Sunday School materials. I think, I’ve outgrown this particular imagery.

As I matured in life, I became more convinced that there are dimensions in life that are deeper and more wonderful than I can possibly imagine. There are ‘visitations’ into our lives that bring us comfort and strength and these just seem to happen too often to be mere coincidence. Remember those stories about ‘butterflies’ that appear from nowhere shortly after a loved one’s passing away?  Did you ever wonder what those meant? I’ve always wondered whether it was an angel sent to bring us comfort and assurance.

The Christmas Story is replete with this kind of visitation. In the story about Mary’s cousin Elizabeth bearing a son, the angel Gabriel visited her husband, Zechariah, announcing the naming of their son, John. In today’s gospel lesson we hear of another visitation. It’s the story about the angel Gabriel visiting a young woman, a virgin named Mary. The angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she ‘has found favor’ with God and that she will bear a son and she’s to name him Jesus.

In Matthew’s gospel, we learn of another angel visitation and this one was on Joseph when he found out that the one betrothed to him was already conceiving. On that cold night, while the shepherds were out in the field, an angel appeared to them. Another angel visitation took place when Joseph was warned of the impending wrath of Herod and for them to flee to Egypt.

In these and other angel visitation stories, we are not told how angels look like. However, we are told what they said. The very first word out of the mouth of angels each time they appear to people in the story is: “Don’t be afraid!”

In the biblical stories involving angels, you might notice that they come to people as they face frightening times in their lives and I believe they do in ours as well. Some of those frightening times in life include those when we just don’t know what foreseeable future would bring. For example, the doctor says your cancer is well advanced you’re time is running short. Just as you take pride in a job you thought was secure, you are given a lay off notice. Your married life begins to crumble. The child you have high hopes in makes a terrible mistake and continues doing the same mistakes. Your spouse dies. Members of family you care about are no longer interested in your wellbeing.

Amidst these and your own version of frightening times, angels come and say to you: “Fear not, the Lord is with you!” “Do not be afraid of the hard places in your lives. Do not be afraid of the times when you don’t know the way, of the times when you wonder if you’ll make it through the night, or the day, or the moment.”

Angels appear amidst the frightening times to ease our fears, to stir our hopes, and to point the way to the holy, to point the way to the living God. They meet us when we least expect them. Often they come to us at our lowest ebbs — those moments when we are most alone, most afraid and most insecure. They point to God in the here and now of life. They point to God in the unpleasantness and dullness of life.

Because of the angel, Elizabeth knew what to say when Mary showed up on her doorstep. Because of the angel, Mary feared not and gave her assent to be the God-bearer. Because of the angel, Joseph was guided into the right thing to do, and so he took Mary as his wife, and when the baby was born, he welcomed her child as his own.

Hence, when you look back over your life, you can think of times when you faced a difficult decision, a confusing situation, and were not sure what to do. I know that just as I have, so have you had the frightening times of your life. But there was that presence, that someone, that quiet voice – an inner voice – that whispered to us “Do not be afraid!” It was that same voice that led us to do what turned out to be the right thing.

Do you believe in angels? I still do!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Yes, we can still rejoice.

We started our observance of a blessed Advent with a theme that is sometimes referred to by others as “fearful expectations”. Those of you who were at church on the First Sunday of Advent heard from the appointed Readings some graphic descriptions of what that End of Time might look like.

Consequently, our initial mood for the season was penitential, more so because we had the opportunity to see where we “stand” when that day of reckoning shall have taken place. With so much brokenness surfacing in our faith journeys and a deep longing for their restoration, our inclination towards a penitential stance seems very apropos.

To make further emphasis on this said stance, the former color of purple helped us acquire such penitential character but because it appeared so similar to Lenten observance, there was a shift to the color blue and has now become the new color reserved for Advent.

Thus, in the past two Sundays and along with the theme of Christ’s Second Coming, our liturgical color was the Advent blue, but today, that has been replaced with yet another color, the color rose, or at least a semblance of it.

This Third Sunday of Advent is popularly referred to as Rose Sunday and I had all the intention to use the Rose-colored chasuble but when I tried it on, I said: “I really could settle for yet another color!” So here at Ascension Church, what you’d see may not be rose-colored vestments and furnishings but they, I think, come close enough. The intention is to help us shift the mood to JOY. Besides, the lovely pink roses by the altar and the rose-colored Candle of Joy appear as inducements for the expected shift in emphasis that is referred to by others as “joyful expectation”.

As you see, Advent begins with the emphasis on the eschatological character of Christ’s Second Coming, then shifts to Christ’s First Coming with the character named John the Baptist and then makes further shift to the Nativity Story with added emphasis on the shift from a penitential mood to a joyous one. So on this Rose Sunday, we’re given some kind of a break and an opportunity to use this time to think of something we should be joyful for.

And that brings us to that juncture of finding out whether we can realistically engage ourselves in a joyful or joyous mindset and state of being. Could we do that or not?

The Advent Candles of Hope, Peace and Joy might help us a bit in finding some answers to the question of whether or not we can be joyful. Anyone who had gone through some brokenness in their lives; anyone whose life had been “shattered” or their world turned upside down could understand what it means to “hope” and search for “peace” in finding their resolve. But to be joyful? Could we really get to that “rosy feeling” suggested to us today? Perhaps a few but I’m pretty sure not all of us.

The truth is that some of us still carry on our back virtual blocks of brick resulting from any of those long list of heart-breaking life circumstances. For some, it could be the unforeseen termination of employment. For others, it could have resulted from the persistence of dysfunctions in their family; or from a relentless assault of chronic illness, or death of a loved one, or any of those rough edges that have become almost like part of their daily routine.

Hence, to those who might be in this scheme of things, today might not be too appealing to be considered as the “Sunday of Joy”. And that makes sense, although, such invitation to “rejoice”, as Paul in his First Letter to the Thessalonians would put it, is what we, Christians, are urged do today, in the face of life’s not-so-rosy reality.

So, I’d like us to try to focus on that word “joy” and let us give ourselves that opportunity to feel what God has to say to us, especially as we are drawing near the celebration of our Lord’s nativity.

Let us try to revisit the story behind what Psalmist in the appointed Psalm for today, Psalm 126, has to say. Psalm 126 alludes to the relationship between God and the people of Israel as the latter faced a desperate situation. Their nation entered one of their saddest times in their history. They were conquered by the great Babylonian Army and sent to exile. It was an experience that Israel would never forget!

There are recent events around the globe that might resemble this predicament, some of which I made reference to it last Sunday when I wrote about contemporary renditions of “wilderness” or “Midvar”.

Hence, compared to the hardships, dangers and losses faced by a nation such as Israel, our own daily aggravations in life actually look relatively lighter. The roads before us might be “rough and rugged” but nothing compared to what Israel had endured! They thought Yahweh had totally forsaken them; they thought they had been punished and abandoned by God. But Yahweh did not. Psalm 126 is about God reminding them He has not forsaken them; that in fact, He remembered them.

The opening verses of Psalm 126 say: “When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, then were we like those who dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy”. (Psalm 126:1-2)

Israel thought that the reversal of their lot was too good to be true; that it can’t be real; that it was like a dream. But it was not. Their exile was over! They were able to return to their own homeland and rebuild their future.

My good friends in Christ, God remembers us, as well. As we think of the Candle of Joy, we come to a realization that although we have our own “captivity” to endure and those virtual blocks of brick to carry, the good news is that God remembers us; all of us; restoring the “fortunes” we thought have eluded us for good.

Amidst the difficulties and hardships you may go through – in the midst of your loss, your dysfunction, your illness, your frailty – in the midst of all these, God remembers you. To paraphrase what St. Paul tells us in our Epistle for today, that should be more than enough reason for us to “rejoice -always, to pray without ceasing and to give thanks in all circumstances”. In other words, we could still “rejoice” while the lights in our faith journey may flicker on and off; that we need not think of them as reflection of God’s seeming absence.

No. God remembers us and He has indeed remembered His Creation. In the fullness of time, He sent His only begotten Son to be with His people, that through him we all may be one with the Father.

As we then move much closer to the celebration of that moment when “the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us” may our preparation include a time for rejoicing, knowing that God never fails us; that He remembers us and that in the end, our “fortunes” – His bountiful love and goodness, will soon be restored.

Yes, we can still “rejoice.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Becoming a ‘Voice in the Wilderness’

In contrast to last Sunday’s future-oriented, quasi-cataclysmic and doomsday natured images of Christ’s Second Coming, that being the suggested emphasis at the beginning of the Advent Season, today’s images shift to the character named John the Baptist.

This shift brings our attention closer to Christ’s ‘First Coming’ but viewed from a different perspective. If you notice, Mark’s gospel does not have any of those familiar nativity scenes that we read from Matthew or Luke. Mark does not have an accounting of the shepherds out by night and the rest of those angelic apparitions.

Rather, Mark’s presentation of the Good News, relative to Christ’s First Coming, begins with John the Baptist. This shift to John the Baptist – this “odd fellow”, clad in camel’s hair and feeding on locusts and honey, at times, proves a bit confusing, especially because of our tendency to think of the sequence of events to be happening in one contiguous timeline. Thus, if we regard John the Baptist as “the voice crying in the wilderness”; as the one who was to “prepare the way of the Lord, making his paths straight”, the assumption is that since John was already preaching a baptism of repentance in the river Jordan as an adult then Jesus’ birth was yet to take place. Follow?

That timeline, however, is incorrect. John and Jesus were first cousins and they were only about six months apart. The reference to John the Baptist as “preparing the way of the Lord, making his paths straight” is not to be regarded within the context of the Nativity of Jesus in Bethlehem but within the context of the onset of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

It is to that “First Coming” – when Jesus embarked on his ministry that John the Baptist plays a major role. It is in this frame of mind that we view John as the “voice in the wilderness and to prepare the way of the Lord.” And with this short explanation, I hope those who had at first seemed confused can now put aside that seeming confusing timeline.

John and his preaching for repentance; his being alluded to as the “voice” in the wilderness with the message of urgent preparation, are, indeed, appropriate themes for this season of Advent. For today’s reflection, we’ll be talking about John the Baptist as the embodiment of the “voice crying in the wilderness” (and) “preparing the way of the Lord; making the Lord’s paths straight”.

While this passage is usually thought of as referring to John, the original ones were actually Isaiah’s. The prophet Isaiah’s context was different from that of John’s but they both have similarities in their use of “wilderness” as an appropriate place from which the message is proclaimed.

In today’s Old Testament Reading, Isaiah employs the word “wilderness”. The Hebrew word he uses is “Midvar”.  This word appears quite a number of times in the Hebrew Scriptures including the one referring to their forty years of wandering, beginning from their famous Exodus from Egypt leading to their occupation of the Promised Land. It was in the “wilderness” where they faced some of the great challenges and hardships of life just as it summed up their experiences when confronted with their own human weaknesses and the predilection for their faithlessness. “Wilderness” as it appears in Isaiah, also symbolized Israel’s shame as their community went into exile as a consequence of their defeat in the hands of the mighty Babylonian armies. When the exiled community “sat and wept by the rivers of Babylon”, there they were in their “wilderness”. They were suffering their “Midvar”.

In these and in all the other low ebbs of Israel’s life as God’s Chosen people, their relentless prayer was to be freed from such “wilderness” and to be drawn out of their “Midvar”.

On Israel’s return from their Exile, their prayer was answered and they again became a community. God gave them His faithful assurance as His own even when they continued to dishonor and disobeyed Him. And yet God was not through with them. He loved them so much and in the fullness of time, He sent His only begotten Son.

The “First Coming” thus began. With the advent of the Messiah, the Good News of Salvation needs to be proclaimed and Mark saw a wonderful way to tell people about this. Mark, in the beginning of his gospel, quotes the words of Isaiah about someone who would be the “voice crying in the wilderness” and “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths”. In Mark’s gospel, the word “wilderness” reappears. Of course! After all, he was quoting Isaiah. But now, since he is writing in the Greek language, Mark uses the Greek word “Eraymos”.

From our gospel lesson for today we read: “As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” (Mark 1:2-3)

Isaiah and Mark, centuries apart, now tell us a parallel message. Isaiah says: “The voice of one crying out in the “wilderness” – of crying out in the “Midvar”. Mark, forty years later in the Christian Era, says: “The voice of one crying out in the “wilderness” – of crying in the “Eraymos”. Both Isaiah’s words and John’s refer to their experiences of seeming hopelessness; of wanting to correct things that had gone awry; of hoping to bring relationships back to their former and better state of being.  

Unsurprisingly, there are images of “wilderness” which are still very much similar to our contemporary life situations. We have our own individual as well as collective versions of “Midvar” or Eraymos”.

Story No. 1.
On December 3, 1972, that’s thirty-nine years ago, I entered my “Midvar”, my “Wilderness”, my “Eraymos”. That was the day my mother died at age 63. Being the youngest, I was a true-blooded Momma’s Boy, if you know what I mean.

Becoming a priest was not my first dream. It was my Mom’s. I really wanted to be a lawyer. More money, I guess. When mother died, I was in my senior year at seminary and so devastated was I that I thought of quitting. After all, it was Mom’s idea that I be a priest, not mine. And more seriously, I incurred more absences by watching and looking after Mom at the hospital. I was away during the final exams and I lost any interest in pursuing my theological studies.

I was in my “wilderness” nurturing that sense of hopelessness! My father was devastated and so were my two siblings and our relatives. They were all in their “Midvar”.

Story No. 2.
Back in December 7, 1941, at 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time, a Japanese dive-bomber bearing the red symbol of the Rising Sun of Japan on its wings appeared out of the clouds above the island of Oahu. A swarm of three hundred and sixty (360) Japanese warplanes followed, descending on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in a ferocious assault. The surprise attack struck a critical blow against the U.S. Pacific fleet and drew the United States irrevocably into World War II.

As you can imagine, there were thousands whose lives suddenly entered their “wilderness” as they grieved for their lost loved ones, lost in such a treacherous manner. They were in the “Midvar” that both bred hatred against a nation and its people and propelled a country to wage a war of global magnitude.

I am sure that you could recall and name your own versions of “wilderness”; those conditions of despair and perhaps even anger that overwhelmed you.

Your “Midvar” could be a failing health, prompted by that telephone call from your physician wanting to urgently talk to you about that lump on your side. It’s worse than you suspected. Suddenly you find yourself in a different world; one of uncertainty, of indecision and self-pity and the list goes on and on. Or your “Midvar” could be a failed marriage; or a notice of termination from your job that came along with the rest of your Christmas mail. “Midvar” could get ironic.

It is from these wilderness-like situations from which the voices of hope; of reconciliation, of justice, and the voice of the “Good News” are proclaimed: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

While the commercial world tells us that the days leading to Christmas are convenient times to “prepare” for the celebration of Jesus’ Nativity, the Church leans more on the understanding that it is a season meant to prepare for the coming of the reign of God in our lives.

We are being called to prepare for a time when, as the Psalmist would put it, when “steadfast love and faithfulness will meet”; when “righteousness and peace will kiss each other”, when “faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.” (cf Psalm 85:10-11) We are called to “prepare” a world in which the blessings are no longer confined in the hands of the 1%, as those supporting the “Occupy Movement” point out to the public, those in the 99%. We are called to “prepare” a world where tokens of God’s blessings are equitably distributed and received in great thankfulness. In a way, we are enjoined to be the modern day surrogates of John the Baptist, preaching for repentance. We need to tell others that the world we are to “prepare” is a world that truly acknowledges the primacy of God in our lives.

We are but a small speck in the vast and glorious design of Creation. Yet, in our small ways, we could help “prepare” a world in which there are no more lives lost in a senseless war; lives lost in hunger and lives lived in the squalor of poverty; a world that is not bound by fences of suspicion and degradation but fences of love, mercy and understanding.

Such are the examples of the conditions of the world we are called to prepare. It’s a calling that would take a good number of generations to see fulfilled. And perhaps, there will be more “voices in the wilderness” that will issue forth similar invitations to “prepare” a better world.

Today, however, as we continue being engaged in a time of preparation, let our Advent be truly that and may John the Baptist, that troubling prophet by the river Jordan, be our model and our inspiration.

Let us endeavor to fulfill our calling of becoming a “voice in the wilderness” to “prepare for the Lord’s coming”.

Have a blessed Advent.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Towards An Intense Watchfulness

Today we begin the holy season of Advent, a time of joyful waiting, of intense watchfulness and a period of preparation. Advent is a kind of a prelude, a kind of a lead in, especially since it comes so timely before the main event, our celebration of Christmas.

But as you must have realized by now, we don’t celebrate Christmas just to recall what happened over two thousand years ago. There’s more to that birthing event of a young virgin that took place in Bethlehem. We celebrate Christmas as an act of rejoicing in our God who entered our world amidst its brokenness and continues to do in the same manner up to this very moment. Hence, as a faith community, we spend a good part of this holy season preparing and opening ourselves up to our Lord Jesus, inviting him to enter into our lives and asking him to be part of all that we do and all that we are.

On this relatively short season of Advent, we are going to consider two encounters. The first is quite obvious. We know what’s coming in precisely twenty-seven days, or better yet, who is coming. It’s our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Word Made Flesh, the Prince of Peace. 

There is, however, another "encounter" we are asked to consider during this holy season of Advent. It’s the encounter that is yet to come; when each of us meets up with our Lord and Maker face to face after our time on this earth shall have ceased or the day Jesus finally returns, whichever comes first.

This is the encounter most of us don’t really care for or don’t like to think about. To some respect, such uncaring attitude seems understandable; after all, we’re certainly not proud of everything we’ve done. Besides, we’re not too sure whether there’ll be that accounting of those times when we willfully chose to miss those opportunities of being co-workers with Christ for the whole time we decided to be his disciples.

Those are pretty good reasons why some would rather not think about it. And yet, it is an inevitable meeting for every single one of us. That confrontation will surely come to pass. As we start the new season of Advent, it is this “encounter”, the one which is yet to come, that we are reminded of and are enjoined to prepare for. It is for this encounter that today’s gospel reading warns us of, so that when our Lord comes, we shall all be ready for it.

Mark the Evangelist writes of a visualization of the Parousia, (the Greek word commonly used to refer to the Second Coming of the Son of God). Thru this visualization, Mark gives his readers ample room for fertile imagination. He writes of how Jesus gave his disciples some preview of what his Parousia would look like. That event would have a cataclysmic character and with the gravity of such descriptions, Mark’s listeners, and that includes us as well, are consequently made to believe that there is no way of escaping this ultimate confrontation. Christ’s Second Coming is not a question of “if” He comes; rather, it is a matter of “when”.

Aware that it is but natural for his disciples to figure things out and put things in their proper perspective, Jesus further warns them and us, that there is just no way of knowing when this Final Day of his return would take place. He then tells that the best thing we all could do is just be prepared. He says “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come”. (Mark 13:32-33)

This is the message most Christians are hearing today: to be watchful; to be aware; to be alert. We are also asked to be as intensely watchful as that trusted doorkeeper in the parable who needs to be in joyful expectation for the return of his master. Just bear in mind, however, there’s no way of knowing when will that be.

This message has been with the early church and has continued to be passed on to us. It is a clear message that there’s just no way of knowing all these. And yet, there had been occasions when some individuals just don’t get it. They think they have a special way of knowing the big “when”.

In the late 19th Century in America, there was a great interest for prophecies predicting the actual date for Christ’s Second Coming. One such prediction was crafted by an Adventist “prophet” named William Miller (1782-1849). By the way, it is in this movement that both the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Seventh Day Adventists find their roots. William Miller first predicted that Christ’s Second Coming would take place on March 21, 1842, but then revised the date to April 3, 1843. Over 3,500 of his followers flocked at the Boston Advent Temple, only to be disappointed. The Doomsday never took place.

You might have thought that the movement would have died. But it didn’t. Rather it continued to grow. Miller decided to recalculate his date for the “correct” Second Coming and soon published a new date - April 18, 1844.  When the “Parousia” did not take place on that date, there was again frustration and some followers left the Adventist ranks. Undeterred by these failures, Miller came up with a third date; the “real” correct one and it would be on October 22, 1844. As doomsday approached, the Millerites began to prepare. But as it was with the rest of his "correct" predictions, there was no Second Coming.

And you think people would have heeded the message, which was clear to begin with. No and there were more. Not too long ago, this minister from Alameda, California, named Harold Camping did it again. He was so sure that the world would end in May of this year but again, his doomsday prediction proved wrong. Just like William Miller before, he had to “recalculate”the date. According to his second prediction, the “correct” one, the world would have ended last October 21, 2011. It never did, We’re still here. He again wondered what went wrong as he did in each of the previous 12 predictions he made in the past.

Needless to say, there appears to be a great push for the “preparation” for this “Second Encounter” and that would have been all right; had it not been for the prediction of the day and the time. I could only wish that people like Miller and Camping had heeded the message, simple as it is. “Beware, be watchful and be alert. No one knows but the Father.” Can it be any simpler than that?

As an alternative and still in keeping with what Jesus wants us to do, let me give you a few suggestions about what we could do as we continue to wait for Jesus’ Second Coming.

At the top of my list is for us to “Be faithful". Jesus said that even He does not know the day or the hour and no one does, except the Father. In the meantime, we all could just be a people of faith. Keep living out the faith that you profess to nurture when, at baptism, you were grafted to the Body of Christ, the Church. Remember that Jesus has never broken a promise yet and He never will. He said He will return and we just have to believe that he will and not to worry when.

The next one that readily comes to mind is for us to “Be diligent.”  Jesus will come unexpectedly, so be ready at any time to take the call of the Savior when He makes it. Let us not deceive ourselves that since there’s a good chance He won’t come during our lifetime that we can play hooky and not worry about the whole “preparation” thing. Instead, live each and every day like it is the day that Jesus will come back because it just might be today.

Lastly, I urge you to “Be watchful.” Jesus called His disciples to be vigilant because He would be coming back at an hour they would not know. Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead; and we are reminded that we must prepare for his coming and live in readiness to receive him.  

Let us make good use of the time appointed for this “getting ready”, this “preparedness” that we Christians are being enjoined. At this Advent season, let us give ourselves that extra time to just simply think of the big question of whether or not we are ready for His Second Coming.

Indeed, “beware, be alert and be ready”. No one knows when the Second Coming will be. In the meantime, labor towards an intense watchfulness. It will be to your advantage and that’s for sure!

Have a blessed Advent.