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.

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