Reflection for the 1st Sunday of Advent (Cycle A)
Vigilance is an action of “staying awake,” “remaining attentive” or “ever watchful” for the inevitable, or at the very least, for whatever is most probable. It is closely related to the idiomatic expression “keeping vigil” which often refers to “staying quietly in place, in waiting, for an unhurried period of time,” though it may also be associated with “being in a state of heightened alert” which connotes “guarding one’s post, firmly securing it for what would seem to be an eternity of silently ticking minutes, of passing dreadful hours.”
In any case, vigilance may be likened to a game with the suspenseful teasing of a mysterious end. It is a desired state in positive, or in negative anticipation of possibilities whose uncertainty is significantly limited only to the question, “When?” Hence, vigilance may be rendered less purposeful if such possibilities are complicated by the questions, “What?” and “How?” It is rendered completely meaningless if such possibilities are placed in serious doubt by the question, “Why?”
In other words, we are willing to wait because we can fully comprehend what is going to happen, how it will happen and most importantly, why it must happen: it simply becomes a matter of when it will happen.
So, for the followers of the Christ, and sincere servants of his kingdom of justice and peace, an explanation of the end is no longer necessary. An uncompromising faith in its true consolations as well as in its paradoxes fuels the conviction to wait for the crucial moment of “salvation”, when “he will rule over the nations and settle disputes for many people”; when “nation will not raise sword against nation;” when people “will train for war no more.” It is with much trust and surrender therefore, that we courageously climb “the mountain of God … that he may teach us his ways and we may walk in his paths” “discarding everything that belongs to darkness” and “putting on the armor of light”, who is no one else but our beloved Master.
But for those who cannot and will not understand him, for those led astray “by the will of the flesh” and “its desires,” the end does not and will never make any sense. They haughtily ask, “Why must one be taken and the other left? Is it not in our power to save, or destroy both?” Gleefully sneering and jeering, “What is this ‘coming’ you speak about? How will it take place: is it a ‘coming’ from above or from below, from beyond or from behind, from within or from without? If we are truly loved by him who is coming, then why must the ‘day or hour’ of his ‘coming’ be kept hidden?” If we are sorely lacking any rational answers to these intriguing questions, they will proudly dismiss our ‘irrational and wasteful’ waiting for an ‘unexpected day or hour’: “There is really no secret end. We can choose and decide our end. There is no Lord; we are our own lords.”
The proper waiting in this sacred season becomes relevant only through the comprehensibility of its culmination. A theology of vigilance presupposes a strong belief in an eschatological end which we cannot avoid nor control nor influence, an end which we can only accept in obedience, humility and joy. However, Christmas has become for many of us, a ‘coming’ filled with a worldly happiness of our own making, not with a divine joy which only Grace can give; this is why we are no longer seriously waiting for Christmas, merely preparing with misplaced yet intense zeal, for the trappings and festivities which will make us temporally happy. And within the larger context of everyday living, this is also why we are no longer spiritually alert against temptations and sin, because we can no longer believe in an end when its victims will be liberated, and their victimizers will be judged.
If the holy vigilance called for in Advent is thus rejected as the “kill-joy” while we move towards Christmas, then it is because we are defiantly looking forward to an unholy joy that kills.
Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.
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