Stay awake, be prepared! Watch and be ready!

First Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 2:1-5

This is what Isaiah, son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In days to come, the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it; many peoples shall come and say: “Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.” For from Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

Romans 13:11-14

Brothers and sisters: You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.

Matthew 24:37-44

Jesus said to his disciples: “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. In those days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be also at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

The scenarios in today’s Gospel Reading are not meant to instill fear nor are they literal “predictions” about the end of the world as doomsayers often contend. They are apocalyptic images commonly employed in Jesus’ time and of the early Christians to describe the eschatological coming of the Lord without designating any time and date. Earlier on, Jesus gave similar descriptions to His disciples regarding the destruction of Jerusalem, the destiny of those in the early Church and the coming of the Last Judgment (rf Mt 24:1-35). They are meant to be warnings of things destined to come so that those who hear and believe will be prepared.

Two thousand years have passed, does this apocalyptic warning still apply? What if instead of “in the days before the flood” it is now “in the days after the flood”, and we are still “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” (Mt 24:37-38)? As we no longer feel the tension of Jesus’ coming as the early Christians did, we often pay lip service in our daily prayers to a fundamental element of our faith, that is, Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead. Unlike Jesus’ disciples who want to know “when are these things to happen?” (Mt 24:3), many of us now are not interested to know anymore but simply carry on with our daily living in the stupor of comfort and pleasure.

Almost everyone has experiences of frustrations and impatience in waiting. In our modern world that demands instant gratification, waiting often leads to anxiety for some; and to most of us, is a waste of time. Prolonged waiting will not only dissipate the once enthusiastic anticipation but will make doubtful the belief of the expected outcome. This negative experience is vastly different from the biblical concept of “waiting for the Lord”. Even King David, who had shown evident impatience with God, “How long, O Lord? . . .” (Ps 13:1-2), later made correction to his attitude and said, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him, do not fret . . .” (Ps 37:7). Throughout the Old Testament, the wait for the coming of the Messiah does not result in boredom or disheartenment. On the contrary, those who remain faithful experienced joy, hope and peace — “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord, be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord” (Ps 27:13-14); “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lam 3:26).

As Christians, we too, should adopt the biblical mode of waiting, not a lethargic passivity but a devout and patient endurance. This “quiet” activity should not let us lose sight of the spiritual reality and give in to apathy or laxity. In fact, waiting can become a positive experience if we put ourselves in peaceful trust of the Lord. St. Paul often uses the word “eagerly” when referring to the waiting of Christ’s Second Coming (rf 1Cor 1:7; Gal 5:5; Rom 8:19, 25; Phil 3:20-21); but eagerness does not imply impatience. In fact, eagerness and patience are the paradoxical qualities of this waiting. It entails a fervent yearning accompanied by prayers and watchfulness.

True that no one knows about the day and the hour of the Lord’s coming, a secret guarded by the Father only. The Son’s mission is to save the world and gives warnings of His sudden appearance. Let not this suddenness catch us off guard; let not our regrets be “If only I listen . . . if only I believe . . . if only I have prepared . . .” and let not Jesus’ exhortation — stay awake, be prepared, watch and be ready — falls on deaf ears and dull hearts today.

Posted: December 1, 2019

May Tam

May Tam, Bachelor of Social Science (University of Hong Kong), Master of Theological Studies (University of Toronto)

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