1ST SUNDAY OF ADVENT: “Therefore, stay awake!”

November 30, 2022 | By Fr. Vincent Arisukwu

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord
Open the eyes of my heart
I want to see You
I want to see You

To see You high and lifted up
Shinin’ in the light of Your glory
Pour out Your power and love
As we sing holy, holy, holy
(Paul Baloche)

At the beginning of this Advent, Jesus sends out a strong message: “Therefore, stay awake!” He speaks to the urgency of witnessing in the Christian life. Paul speaks with similar tenacity in the second reading, insisting that we throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. It is a summons to the followers of Jesus to stand erect during these times, stay awake, and not give in to “orgies and drunkenness, promiscuity and lust, rivalry and jealousy,” but to be vigilant in the spirit. Jesus would not want his followers to be caught napping as in the time of Noah. Hence, fulfilling the demands of the spirit must override the desires of the flesh. So, it’s good to start this advent by asking yourself, what works of darkness you have to throw off from your life. What are those things that hold you back from making spiritual progress and how can you get them thrashed? What works are you ashamed of? Are there things that you struggle with and for which you would not want your wife, husband, or any close friend to know about you? Are you ashamed of what God might be thinking and shame makes you want to hide from God?

Advent is foundational in the church’s liturgy as it ushers in hope and anticipation. At the beginning of Advent, the Church makes the theme of watchfulness a foundational attitude of the Christian life and invites believers to look forward to Christ’s victorious return. Advent announces the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise, the just shoot of the house of David will arrive. Advent offers an opportunity to reflect deeper on the meaning of grace, and on our relationship with God. Advent invites us to stay awake. Like Lent, Advent is a time of waiting and penance, of birth and renewal. The church’s liturgical color is mostly purple depicting a penitential mode. In Advent, the Church is pregnant for the messiah in his glory. We await the Parousia, Christ’s second coming. The infant Jesus comes in the flesh, born in the manger at Christmas, whereas significantly, He will come in glory at the end of time. As in Lent, Advent becomes a unique opportunity for witnessing.

Some time ago, Cardinal O’Connor shared his experience with his confessor. The Cardinal reports the words of an elderly priest to him in these words, “Now is a moment of grace. Something big is about to happen; something very big. And it’s going to happen to you. We are about to begin Advent. God has become incarnate in the human condition, for you, personally for you. You have reasons for new and wonderful hope” (Magnificat, Nov. 2021, Vol.23, No.9,p.370). These words speak to us, “Something big is about to happen for you.”

In the gospel, Matthew addresses Jesus as “the Son of Man,” not the Son of God. Jesus recalls our dignity and high calling as human beings. Only humans can praise, worship, and glorify God. Only humans have body and soul made in the likeness of God. God left his throne on high and became a man, making us assume divine dignity. Why is this important to understand? The message is that as children of God, everything changes. We begin to see with the eyes of God. Only humans can understand the need for vigilance. Only humans can identify God’s invitation to live according to God’s will. Humans alone can live in “the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.”

Certainly, the message of Advent is familiar to us, “Be watchful! Be alert!” Yet Christ keeps saying to us, “You do not know when the time will come. Whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning” (Matt. 13:36). Staying awake can be a challenge at our time when greater emphasis is on satisfying and gratifying the demands of the flesh, a time that values emotions beyond anything else. Still, it is obvious that salvation can only be achieved through righteousness and not through drunkenness or anxious attachment to worldly things.

The truth is that God’s grace is in our hearts. But we must feel it. Grace invites us to cooperate with God. In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah used the image of the potter and the clay to describe how God works on us when he says, “Yet, O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter; we are all the work of your hands” (Is. 64:7). How can we let the potter get us to the desired shape distorted by sin? It is by grace that keeps us out of the entrapment of sin. Grace heals our brokenness. Grace stimulates our vigilance. Grace keeps us in the lane and within the limits of the spiritual life since through grace we hear the voice of the Son of Man. Christ is saying to us, “What I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” Grace enables us to stand erect, the same way as the saints who lived amidst trials, temptations, failures, crosses, and sufferings. Grace puts us in anticipation of the hour when the Son of Man will come.

Let’s start off our Advent on a high note. Jesus wants us to raise our heads high and be ready. Think about those words of wisdom from Cardinal O’Connor, “Now is a moment of grace. Something big is about to happen; something very big. And it’s going to happen to you.” Where can we find this newness, this moment of grace, this terrific encounter with Jesus? It is in the sacrament of penance. Something new will happen for you at the confessional. Maybe you have had this restrained desire in the past. You wish to go, yet you have not. Maybe you’ve been going. Still, go again! Begin the Advent on a completely clean slate. There are numerous confession opportunities within the parishes. The Church wants you to encounter God’s grace. Pray with the singer Paul Baloche, that the Lord opens the eyes of your heart to see Him beyond what is considered your routine. Pray that your Advent be special. Develop real hunger for grace and holiness during this period. Something big can truly happen for you. Go for it!

My Advent challenge for you is to go to Confession!

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