Tomorrow, the first Sunday of Advent, marks the beginning of a period of preparation for the coming the birth of Jesus Christ, on Christmas Day. In the next four weeks, as I have done in previous years, I will be writing about this season. This year, in this so-called post-truth world where our political perspectives dominate the way we see the world and each other, I thought it would be good to quiet down a little, if only in my writing; to go up the hill and petition for clarity and wisdom of mind alongside purity of heart. I ask for the gift to see through the fog of hate that permeates our national life, not to mention world affairs. Through the grace of God, perhaps, I can help my readers, too.
The Gospel for this First Sunday of Advent advises 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. This urgency is not borne out of fear much like the master instill in his slave but one impelled by God’s intense love for us. The Lord lavishes us with love of indescribable intensity such that we are sent a very strong message asking us with loving kindness to reconcile ourselves with our Creator; to turn our backs away from the slavery of sin and experience absolute freedom. It is only when we sincerely follow in the footsteps of Christ that our spirits will experience real freedom. Jesus himself said to the Jews in the Gospel of John: “If you persevere in my word, you will indeed be my disciples. You will learn the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
Oftentimes people do not experience freedom because they seek salvation from wrong sources. We find answers to our problems and anxieties from ephemeral remedies that do not bring about lasting solutions, like money, drugs, carnal lust, illicit affections and a variety of addictions. And we soon realize that these “solutions” fall dismally short of their hype. We end up becoming more frustrated and miserable than ever before. Most of us fall victim to our own worldly delusions. This is the reason why so many remain mired in misery and often fall into despair despite the myriad of worldly contrivances purporting to give us pleasure and power.
People play god to become the judge and executioner to rid society of perceived evils. Thus, we are bombarded by daily news of murder and extrajudicial killings. People think that through their own efforts they can determine their destiny, thus resorting to all kinds of chicaneries, stealing, robbery, and all forms of dishonesty to manipulate their fortunes. These past days, we have seen how legal and political processes have been manipulated to obliterate memory and subvert truth. There is no end in sight. Conventional wisdom says it will get worse before it becomes better. But maybe not. God willing, maybe not.
What we most conveniently forget is that the answer lies not in our own contrived idea of instant remedies and reliance on our natural proclivities. The secret to attain true happiness, joy and contentment can only be reposed in the hands of one invisible and infinitely powerful God who once upon a time, in a historic moment, offered himself on the cross to unveil the depth of God’s love and the mystery of humankind, lighting our way as we journey along the path of life toward its end, which is eternal communion with the Father.
In his most recent Apostolic Letter Misericordia et Misera, Pope Francis notes: “In a culture often dominated by technology, sadness and loneliness appear to be on the rise, not least among young people. The future seems prey to an uncertainty that does not make for stability. This often gives rise to depression, sadness and boredom, which can gradually lead to despair. We need witnesses to hope and true joy if we are to dispel the illusions that promise quick and easy happiness through artificial paradises. The profound sense of emptiness felt by so many people can be overcome by the hope we bear in our hearts and by the joy that it gives. We need to acknowledge the joy that rises up in a heart touched by mercy. Let us keep in mind, then, the words of the Apostle: “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4; cf. 1 Thess 5:16).”
If we find we have squandered our “inheritance on a life of dissipation,” described in the Gospel of Luke, it is time to return to the Lord. It is time to humbly reconcile ourselves with our real nature—that we are finite, powerless, limited creatures who can do nothing apart from Christ; that it is sheer folly to play god, to judge others based on our often flawed standards. To all my readers, I acknowledge my own failures and ask forgiveness for the ease and speed with which I have also made my own judgments. Believing I am right and that the truth is on my side is not an excuse to being unkind.
Truly wise and holy persons do not depend on their power but reconcile with the futility and the smallness of their stature in the scheme of things, in contrast with the greatness and majesty of Christ who abundantly dispenses love, mercy and hope. It is reconciling ourselves with our own insignificance that gives the spirit of Christ room in our hearts for him to dwell. This is a most pleasing form of welcome that we can offer Christ as we prepare for his coming. It is a gift I intensely desire.
The readings during this season exhort us to prepare ourselves to welcome the Lord with clean and pure hearts; to anchor ourselves to the love of God through Jesus Christ who became flesh and was made human. The Lord’s infinite love for us is such that our Messiah offered to die on the cross, enduring the humiliation of becoming like a creature like us, in all respects but sin. This is a profound message of unrelenting love from Jesus Christ, our redeemer. But only those are alert, those who are seeking the Lord constantly would see this.
Fortunately, nay, by design, this is what Advent is all about. It is a season of mercy, of a returning to the Lord. The song we sing in this time borrows words of the Lord, heard first and recorded in writing by the prophet Hosea: “Come back to me with all your heart; don’t let fear keep us apart. Trees do bend though straight and tall, so must we to others call. Long have I waited for your coming home to me, and living deeply our new life.”
For you, my dear readers, I pray for an Advent full of desire for the Lord!
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