COME, LORD JESUS (Rev. 22:20)
People at different places have different times when they begin their new year. Even before the use of the Gregorian calendar about the 6th Century. BC, there existed very many other calendars which did not begin their new year with the month of January. Igbos counted their new year with the celebration of the new yam festival which is some time in August for most Igbo communities. The church counted her new year with the first Sunday of Advent which falls around the last Sunday of November and first Sunday of December.
I therefore seize this opportunity to say happy New Year to you all. Today is the first Sunday of the New Year; first Sunday of advent. This year is year C of the church’s calendar when we read the Gospel narrative according to Luke. As we begin the New Year with the season of advent, may we not fail to ask ourselves what advent is all about. Advent is anglicized form of the Latin word adventus, meaning arrival or approach. Thus it is a moment we await in patient hope for the Lord’s coming/arrival/approach. It is the beginning of a time of prayer and fasting in preparation for the coming of the Lord. This season brings out in vivid forms the two aspects of the Lord’s coming: the first and second comings. The Eastern churches’ equivalent of Advent is called the Nativity Fest, but it differs in both length and observances but does not begin the church’s year which they rather begin on September 1. In the Latin Church, this feast begins immediately after the last Sunday of the year marked with Christ the King. At least in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Moravian, Presbyterian and Methodist calendars, Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before December 25, which is the Sunday between November 27 and December 3 inclusive. The colour of this period-blue/purple/violet- is a sign of hope. This depicts that the church is actually awaiting in hope for the Lord’s arrival.
One of the reasons we use purple vestments during the season of Advent is because purple symbolizes repentance. Little wonder during sacramental confession we use purple vestment. Advent is a time when we all need to repent, to make a fresh start. As St. Paul tells us in the second reading, Advent is a great opportunity once more to cast off deeds of darkness and put on the armor of the Light of Christ. The darkness Christ comes to deliver us from is within. When all the Christmas lights are gone, the Light of Christ remains within the hearts of those that experienced real Advent season. As we await the coming of Christ, we are called to total self-giving, not self-indulgence; self-forgetfulness, not self-centeredness. Let us, then, heed his call and catch the true spirit of Advent so that we can meet Him as he comes to us at Christmas and always.
When? How long? When will that day come? We do not know. These remain questions seeking answers. Nevertheless, the church in this period of advent celebrates the Lord’s coming in two fold. First, his first coming into the world- a feast we celebrate at Christmas- the birthday anniversary of the Lord’s coming into this world as God incarnate. The second is the Lord’s second coming as a judge in the end time. These two comings are celebrated this period as manifested in the readings and prayers from 18th -24th Dec. and 1st -17th Dec. respectively. We know the first coming but the second we don’t know. Not just that we don’t know but Christ discourages us from such knowledge rather he expects us to get prepared at all times since his coming will be like a thief. Good enough this season fulfils that divine command to get prepared whereof from 1st -17th of this month the church prepares us for Christ’s second coming as a judge. For these two comings, the Lord enjoins us today to be ready -“You also must be ready!” (Mt. 24:44).
One may ask, ‘what need Christ’s coming’? “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” Israel had a troubled history. She was a tiny nation wedged between huge and ambitious empires that were constantly vying for superiority. Israel had few times during her 700-year history in which she did not live under threat. Wars were almost constant, some were devastating. For much of her existence she lived under the sovereignty of some other nation, unable or sometimes unwilling to establish her own existence in the world as God’s people. In the time of Isaiah of Jerusalem, Judah was a vassal state of Assyria. During Isaiah’s lifetime the Assyrians would sweep in and totally annihilate the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and threaten to do the same to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Judah had weak leaders who saw it more politically expedient to appease the Empire than to be faithful to God. And yet there were those like Isaiah who could envision a different reality, who could hope for a time when Israel would be faithful and allow God to be their God. This is the time of the son of God.
Christ’s coming has two aspects. There is a birth from God before the ages, and a birth from a virgin at the fullness of time. There is a hidden coming, like that of rain on fleece, and a coming before all eyes, still in the future. At the first coming he was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. At his second coming he will be clothed in light as in a garment. In the first coming he endured the cross, despising the shame; in the second coming he will be in glory, escorted by an army of angels. We look then beyond the first coming and await the second. At the first coming we said: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. At the second we shall say it again; we shall go out with the angels to meet the Lord and cry out in adoration: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
And so they hoped! And they dreamed! They dreamt of a time when God would enter the world and bring an end to war and suffering, when he would establish his reign on earth and restore all creation to what he intended it to be. They dreamed of a time when the division that had torn their people apart and divided them into north and south might be healed, and they could once again be a whole people under God. They dreamed of a time when “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
In this Advent Season we shall be granted once again to experience the closeness of the One who created the world, who guides history and who cared for us to the point of deigning to become a man. It also offers us opportunity to reflect and pray for expectant mothers, welfare and sacredness of the unborn e.t.c. Thus the unborn is not an accumulation of biological material as some person may think but rather of a new living being, dynamic and marvelously ordered, a new individual of the human species just as was Christ in Mary’s womb and just as we were. We may say with Tertullian, an ancient Christian writer: “the one who will be a man is one already” (Apologeticum IX, 8), there is no reason not to consider him a person from conception.
Therefore, my people of God; “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the amour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Rom. 13:11-4). It is rather a time to do just a little thing in that small corner of the world you are to make a difference. Remember, the momentary salvation experienced by the Isrealities sustained their hope of their expectancy of full salvation. This is a period to sustain others’ hope of salvation in Christ. Look around your environment and make a difference.
In this new liturgical year, the Church not only wishes to indicate the beginning of a period, but the beginning of a renewed commitment. In fact, the entire Liturgy of the Advent Season, will spur us to an awakening in our Christian life and will put us in a ‘vigilant’ disposition, to wait for Our Lord Jesus who is coming. “I will prepare for the coming of the Omnipresent baby Christ by cleaning the cradle of my consciousness and sense attachments; and by polishing it with deep, daily, divine meditation and introspection. I will remodel the cradle with the dazzling soul-qualities of brotherly love, humbleness, faith, desire for God, will power, self-control, renunciation and unselfishness, that I may fittingly celebrate the birth of the Divine Child.”
The story of the wise old Rabbi is a lesson for us in this season. A wise old Rabbi who instructed his students by asking questions asked, “How can a person tell when the darkness ends and the day begins?” After thinking for a moment, one student replied, “It is when there is enough light to see an animal in the distance and be able to tell if it is a sheep or a goat.” Another student said, “It is when there is enough light to see a tree, and tell if it is a fig or an oak tree.” The old Rabbi gently said, “No. It is when you can look into a man’s face and recognize him as your brother. For if you cannot recognize in another’s face the face of your brother, the light has not yet come.” May this celebration bring an end to war and suffering and restore all creation in Christ.