- Bible Reflection (3 December 2023)
1st Sunday Of Advent Year B
Am I prepared for Christmas as I am prepared for living? Am I prepared for death as I am prepared for life?
Life has its unexpected twists and turns. As events unexpectedly become difficult or challenging to us, how do we handle the situation? For example, if we or our loved ones suddenly lose our job; be diagnosed with a serious illness, be met with an accident, or encounter legal troubles. What do we do? Often, how well we handle an unexpected challenge depends on how much we have prepared during better times. For example, in money matters, have we put aside money for rainy days? On health matters, have we exercised regularly and maintained a healthy diet? On financial and legal matters, have we put in place legal contingencies like legal will, enduring power of attorney, life insurance, etc? In other words, have we taken the extra effort to build our house on a strong foundation as Jesus advised us to (c.f. Mt 7:24-27)?
Indeed, it is important to be prepared. And as much as it is important to be prepared on the logistical, financial, legal aspects of life, it is even more important to be prepared spiritually. Whereas logistical, financial, legal preparations are for the unexpected turns of life, spiritual preparation is for life itself and for events of inevitability such as death. So, my brothers and sisters, as we begin Advent – a season of preparation – let us ask ourselves: During better times, have I invested in my spiritual growth? Do I read and reflect on word of God, the Bible? Do I join Bible study groups so as to grow and fellowship with others? Do I pray? Do I contemplate on His teachings? Do I spend time developing intimacy with God? Do I reflect on my sins and repent for them? The answers to these questions tell us the state of our spiritual life. If we have done these preparations, then we are as Jesus said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” (Mt 7:24)
But what if I, like many others, have not been prepared? In truth, whether it is worldly or spiritual matters, many of us are unprepared. And worse than that, while we know we are unprepared, we choose to ignore it. We have hardened our hearts. Hence, we do not like to think or talk about disaster or death because such topics make us uncomfortable. This was the lament of prophet Isaiah in the First Reading: “Why, O Lord, do you make us stray from your ways and harden our heart, so that we do not fear you?” (verse 63:17) It is in this context that the Church provides us preparation periods for Christmas and Easter, the two greatest celebrations of our liturgical calendar. This Advent, let us not just prepare for Christmas, let us use this period to bolster our preparation for life.
In the First Reading this week, the prophet Isaiah called on God to once again display the wonders and miracles He manifested in the days of old. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence? When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.” (verse 64:1,3) But alas, wonders and miracles are ineffective if our hearts remained hardened. As St Paul said, “we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7) For without faith, even dramatic miracles are not enough to turn our hearts receptive. And it is only with receptive hearts that we are open to God’s teachings and God’s word, become docile to Him, and to let ourselves to be moulded by Him. “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (verse 64:8)
But to be receptive to God does not just mean being receptive to His teachings and His word. It is also about being receptive to His gifts and graces. St Paul said in the Second Reading: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind – just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you – so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (verse 4-7) Being receptive to His teachings and His word forms our hearts with a strong foundation. Whereas being receptive to His gifts and His graces empowers our hands to do His will. Both are necessary. It is only when we are receptive to His teachings, His word, His gifts and His graces that we become one with Him, that we are called to imitate Jesus, that we called into the sonship of God. In the words of St Paul in the Second Reading, “God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (verse 9) Indeed, this is the objective to our preparation periods for Christmas and Easter. It is to prepare us to become one with Christ.
But even as we make good spiritual progress, we must not be complacent and assume we have all the time on our side. We know that as each day passes in Advent, we are a day closer to Christmas. But at least with Advent, we know exactly when Christmas is coming. Indeed, our whole life on earth is one preparation period. Except in the case of our earthly life, we do not know when the final day will come. This is Jesus’ message in the Gospel this week: “Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.” (verse 33) Because we do not know when the day will come, we do not know how much time we have left. Because we do not know how much time we have left, we must be ready at all times. “Therefore, keep awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.” (verse 35-36)
My brothers and sisters, as we begin our Advent preparation, let us ponder over these two questions. One, if the Master comes to me today, that is, if my earthly life comes to an end today, am I ready? Two, what spiritual growth do I want to achieve this Advent? Dear friends, let us have a spirit-filled Advent period. Let us begin.