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February 21, 2017

Time for Refreshing

It’s Advent again!  It’s that season of expectation when we prepare the way for the nativity of our Lord. It isa time for the renewal of faith and hope while watching and praying.But why do we have to go through the same rituals every year? Why Advent? It is certainly not for a lack of imagination or creativity on the part of the Church. Rather, it is a perennial reminder of the three comings of Christ our Lord. The first was in history (2000 years ago); the second is his ongoing coming in mystery through his grace, Word and sacraments; and then his final coming in glory which will be at the end of time. We get the word “Advent” from the Latin “ad-venire”, which means to approach or come close to. Ours is the age of the final phase of history and human civilization which will culminate in the Parousia – the glorious return of Christ. This return will mark the overthrow of the reign of sin, the destruction of the universe as we know it, the emergence of a new order of creation, and the definitive institution of the reign of Christ. Advent is a time to reflect on these things and our Readings today point in that direction.

Today, however, Jesus wants us to worry less about the exact timing of his return in glory and be more concerned with our readiness for whenever we might be called. He uses three stories to press home the point. First, he compares his Parousia to the story of Noah; it will be sudden like the floods, so we must not to be unprepared like the people of Noah’s time. Theygot into trouble not for what they did but for what they failed to do –  neglecting their relationship with God while being engrossed with worldly matters. Noah is the model disciple who prepared adequately by building his ark, which is a symbol for a life of holiness. Second, the Lord uses the parable of the labourers: everyone is busy but in each case one of the two is so busy there is no time for God. Finally, he employs the metaphor of a thief who strikes suddenly in the middle of the night. The core message is for us to be on a constant alert. We must never live like the end will never come!

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Jesus makes it very clear in the Gospel today: “You too must stand ready!” This is an invitation for us to take a stand for him, to go up to the mountain of the Lord. There, as Isaiah points out in the First Reading, the Lord “will teach us his ways so that we may walk in his paths”. The mountain of the Lord is a figure of our spiritual and moral disposition – an attitude of faithfulness to the Word of God, and docility to the Holy Spirit. That way we are fully equipped and ready for the Lord’s coming. The last sentence of the First Reading encapsulates today’s message: “O House of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord”.We must listen to what the Lord is saying!

This invitation gladdens the heart of our Psalmist today as he exclaims: “I rejoiced when I heard them say: let us go up to God’s house”. We to are called to a similar aspiration, to rejoice at the prospect of approaching the mountain of the Lord. In the Second Reading, we are counselled to live in such a way as to be ready for the Lord’s coming. This passage from St Paul’s Letter to the Romans was what changed, radically and forever, the life of Augustine of Hippo (St Augustine), who had been lost in a life of debauchery, and despaired over his failure to live a good life. St Paul then highlights the sinful habits that characterise a life without Christ – drunken orgies, promiscuity, licentiousness, wrangling, and jealousy. These, he says, are “the things we do under the cover of the dark.” The Apostle invites us to give them up and to become people of the light. We are challenged to fortify ourselves with the armour of God’s light, and to be on the watch always. To watch means we live pro-actively, not passively, doing everything in such a way as to please Christ and to benefit our neighbour.

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Dear friends, today is the day to make a fresh start in our Christian journey; to be open to the special graces that Jesus has in store for us this Advent. To prepare adequately, therefore, let us consider the Sacrament of Reconciliation as the best way to make that fresh beginning. Let us surrender to Jesus and let the Holy Spirit cleanse, strengthen, and renew our minds and hearts this season of Advent. One of the reasons we use purple vestments during Advent is because purple symbolizes repentance, and Advent is a time when we all need to repent and make a fresh start.

Therefore, let us make room in our hearts for that joy today! Let us take a shower of grace, and let us make good use of the gift of confession! We can be sure that the grace of forgiveness will unleash a floodgate of joy into our hearts, the sort of joy that enveloped the pilgrims approaching Jerusalem, as we see in the Responsorial Psalm.Christmas is a time of joy – because Christ’s coming (whether in history, in mystery, or in glory) is the ultimate reason for Christian joy. Let us embrace this time of refreshing!

May the blessings of the Responsorial Psalm today be yours in full measure this Advent and beyond: Peace upon you; peace to your homes; peace to your place of work or play; peace everywhere. May the peace of Christ be with you, and bring you joy everlasting. Amen!

Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalms 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5, 6-7, 8; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:37-44

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