“Disciples of the Way”
November 27, 2016: The First Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 2: 1 – 5/ Psalm 122/Romans 13: 8 – 14/ Matthew 24: 37 - 44
Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos
It is a new year! We start the New Year with the Season of Advent with a message of preparing our hearts for the coming of the Lord. Advent commemorates and looks back to the first coming of our Lord when He became incarnate and came to us in the flesh. It also anticipates and looks forward to the second coming. This is not to say that in the He is not with us in the intermediate. It is a mystery; a paradox. Jesus is with us, and yet, He is coming again. He came in the flesh; He suffered, died and rose again; and He ascended, but He really did not leave us. He is in us and at the same time, we wait for His coming again
We see it in the light of growth and fullness. Jesus’ presence, right now, is in us. We experience Him being with us in the Eucharist, at the Table. He is present in the Church. He is present when two or three are gathered together in His Name. Jesus is present where brethren dwell together in unity. He is present in the least, in the lonely, in the weak, in the sinners – in everyone. Jesus is beside us, before us, and behind us. We find Him shouting in the street as wisdom. He is in all creation. He speaks to us in events, in circumstances, in situations, and sometimes, we hear Him speaking through our brother or sister, even to the mouth of infants and nursing babes.
Jesus is with us because He promised that He will be with us. At the same time, we look forward to His coming again in the fullness that we would only understand when we spend our present productively and preparing ourselves to look forward and waiting until that day when He comes again. It is wise for us to pause, to be sensitive, to be still and know that God is with us, and He, as He promised, will come again.
The now is important; the present is important. Now is very much a part of the rest of our eternal life. Our eternal life doesn’t start in the future; our eternal life is here now and it includes the future. Let us waste the now because it is much part of the eternal life as the future is. We should take advantage of the present because the present is a venue for our growth, the nature of the Kingdom, and it will prepare us for the day.
In Isaiah 9, Isaiah prophesied that in the kingdom of God, there is no end to the increase of it. For us, people of hope, the time that we spend is not just chronological, coming from the word chronos (sequential). Time is not just linear, measured in seconds, minutes, and hours, but it is kairos (the opportune time). Kairos is the time that we seize the day. Don't let the opportunity pass you by. Don't let your life pass you by. Don’t let your children’s lives pass you by. We only live our age once like celebrating 7th year or 40th year once, thus, seize the day and the opportunity. Don’t let today’s opportunity and joys, which God puts in front of us, pass us by.
Mark 3:14 says that Jesus called His twelve apostles so that they could be with Him (in the present) and He could send them to preach the gospel. This is our calling, too. If we are with Him now, and growing in the knowledge of Him, our joy will be much fuller when He comes again.
In the Parable of the Talents, those who were fruitful in the present with what the master gave them, they became prepared and their joy was full when the master returned. He who wasted the present and who hid the opportunities wasn’t prepared for the master’s coming and so, he did not have the fullness of joy.
We will have a Church building. In a couple of years, we will have our own building after several decades. What do we do? Do we sleep until then and wait wake up when the building comes? The now, we spend preparing for that which is coming so that when it does come, our joy will be full because we grow into that fullness. We don't become idle now, and then expect to have joy when that which we are waiting for comes.
I will brag a little. When I was in Grade 3, I went to school and I was greeted by my Math teacher. She asked me, “Why are you not in gala uniform?” I said, “Why would I be?” She replied, “Today is the day for the Math contest.” I asked, “What does that got to do with me not being in gala uniform?” She said, “You are a contestant. I enlisted you.” I said, “I did not know that.” My teacher said, “Okay, you go.” During the Math Contest, everybody was wearing their gala uniform and I was in short sleeves and short pants. I got the silver medal. Wasn’t I prepared? Maybe, I was not prepared in uniform, but for the contest, I was. I happened to love Math, and my heart was in it. It has become a habit of mine of adding five to six digit numbers in my mind. I did not have to, in a few days before the contest, accelerate my studying. The whole time, I spent the present preparing. It was not actually preparing, but putting my heart and enjoying what God intended for me to enjoy. It is a step by step so that when the unexpected comes, which no one knows the day or the hour of, we are prepared and our joy is full and we get a reward.
At another time, in my first year in college, I came in thirty-minutes late for my one hour Algebra class because of traffic. Half of the class was spent when I walked in and when I did, all my classmates were quiet with their heads down to the paper writing. My teacher followed me with a look that was ridiculing me as I walk across the room as if asking, “Doesn’t this guy care for his grade?” When I got to my seat, I asked my classmate, “What is going on?” He said, “It is midterm exam today. Don’t you know?” I said, “No, I did not.” I did not know like it was during the Math contest when I was in Grade 3. It so happened that the exam was one of my favorite subjects, and it was a simple word problem. I took the exam and I solved the problems. Fifteen minutes later, I stood up, gave my paper to my professor, and walked back to my seat. My professor, with a puzzled look on his face, called me. He was aware that I was seated beside one who was very intelligent. He probably thought that I copied so he asked me how I got my answers. I explained it and he was satisfied; and he gave me a score of 100%.
Was I prepared or was I not prepared? We don’t memorize; we understand. We don’t just follow rules; we put them to heart, then, we will be prepared even if we don’t know the day or the hour. This is what Jesus wants us to understand. In preparation, we prepare not legalistically, but to get the heart of the subject. Get the message of the professor; then, we will be prepared; then, we will have fullness of joy when the day comes. Seize the present, and you will have that which you want to have the fullness of.
The parable says that blessed are the virgins who prepare; blessed are the servants who so serve the master until he comes even if they don’t know when he was coming. The master said, “Occupy till I come.” Romans warns us to wait in fullness and in growth, not in spiritual idleness or in fleshly and worldly busyness, but in anticipation, let it build by preparing and being on the alert. The kingdom of God is that growth – ever increasing. It doesn’t start in the future, but it starts now. It starts building up and growing now, not later.
God is pleased with our participation now. Now is the time to participate in the works of God, in the works of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is here now! The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the poor have the good news preached to them. Participate in these! Participate in clothing the naked, in visiting the prisoners, in healing the sick, in feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty. It is not just about doing the work and getting it done because believe it or not, God doesn’t need our help. He can do without our help. God wants us participating in these things so that we get again His heart.
The point is not passing the exam, but learning the lesson. The point is not making the grade, but it is understanding for our sake, so that we get His heart, we walk in His love, and we partake of His nature. In Romans 13, St. Paul instructs us to put on Jesus Christ; to put on love. Owe nothing to anyone except to love until we grow in fullness and reach the stature of our Lord Jesus Christ. Then, Isaiah’s prophecy will be fulfilled that the mountain of the Lord will be the chief of the mountains. The Church will be the shining light of the world. The way of the Lord will be proclaimed out of God’s people and His ways will be universal. His peace will reign.
Isaiah 9:7 says, “For unto us a child is born…. and there will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace.” Peace will increase. Peace will reign and reach its summit on that day and everything will be summed up in Christ as Ephesians 1:10 says. The kingdoms of the world will become the kingdom of our God, until one day there will be again a one world government. It is not something we fear. It is not something bad, but it is something good. It will be a one world government under God, not under a Caesar, not under a prince or principality, but under God again, just like before.
Our Tagalog language is becoming more and more street language than something that is rich in vocabulary. It may not be as rich as English or French, but there are words in Tagalog that I appreciate because they catch what I mentioned about ‘the summing up of all things in Christ.’ Trinity is Banal na Santatlo – One in Three. Another is sangkalupaan - one earth; one world. Sangnilikha – one creation in unity. Sankatauhan- one united mankind. Sanlibutan and sankalangitan expresses unity even if there is sangkaterba and sandamakmak.
This is what we are looking forward to. This brings hope - internal joy that no external thing can take away from. It is not dependent on circumstances or situations, but on God’s promise. The beginning, not the end, is near. The beginning of something good, permanent and eternal. It would be gloomy if the second coming is about the end of the world, that is, if it is all about the end of what God made good. God made the earth good, and if it is about the end of what God made good and owns and so love and is restoring, then, this is bad news and I don’t want to look forward to it.
The end of the world is not the end of the physical material creation, but the end of the fallen state into which Adam subjected us and all of creation due to sin and death. The end of that world, that Babylon, is the beginning of a new earth, new heavens, and a new creation. This flesh is good; the earth is good. God loves it and He gave His Son’s life to restore all of it. It is the making of all things new.
If this is our understanding of Advent and what we are preparing for, then, it is good news of great joy. We are looking forward to restoration, to a new creation, to new heavens, and to a new earth. Romans 8:20 says that creation was subjected to futility because of sin and death in hope that it will be set free from slavery to corruption into the glory of the sons of God. No matter how disfigured, damaged, marred or broken, God's image in man is indelible. The image may be tarnished or blurred by the effects of sin, but underneath, the image of God is permanent and it remains. God’s goodness remains in creation. He is in the process of restoration, of restoring you and me.
Though damaged, though marred or disfigured, we have hope and this hope springs eternal and this hope will not disappoint. Therefore, we are not to escape what God intended to be our home and what I would call the venue for our fellowship with Him.
Jesus came. He is still here, and He will come again, so shall we ever be with the Lord. This is hope! This is Advent and this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.