Thursday, November 26, 2009

The End is Near! What shall we do?!

First Sunday of Advent Year C

Today the Church begins a new liturgical year. In many cultures and traditions, we often find their new year celebration as an opportunity to remember and give thanks to God for all the blessings of the past year. More importantly it is a time to pray for a good year ahead. We Christians have a slightly different way of celebrating our liturgical new year. We celebrate this event not by looking to the past or to the following year but we are asked to focus on the end of time – the end of the world. This may seem extremely strange especially when we often regard the end of the world as something frightening.

The first part of today’s gospel does present a frightening picture of the end of the world – “There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars; on earth nations in agony, bewildered by the clamour of the ocean and its waves; men dying of fear as they await what menaces the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken.” Natural calamities, like earthquakes, tsunami, typhoon, floods etc. often bring about this experience of fear and anxiety. On the other hand, science tells us that these natural calamities are the result of an earth which is growing and evolving. It is signs of life rather than of death. Planets that no longer have such natural calamities – no earthquakes, no storms, no volcanoes – also have no life. Nothing can live on such planets. They are dead planets.

So, Jesus very often uses the image of natural calamities to describe the end of the world in order to show that something new is about to be born. These are birth pangs. These are not signs of death but rather of life. If we begin to view the end of the world in this perspective, then today’s celebration and this season of Advent will become a celebration of hope rather than a celebration of fear.

We should not ask the question: “When will all of these happen?” When and how is not important. The question that we should be asking is this: What shall we do as we await this final day. Today’s scriptures are full of lessons for us.

First of all, even if there is a lot of confusion, things are not going according to our plans, nobody should lose heart. Jesus tells us: “When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.” We must not be anxious because Jesus is coming. This is certain. He is our saviour. Today, we face many problems – family problems, financial problems. Many feel like giving up. Jesus reminds us – do not lose heart – stand erect and hold your heads high because your liberation is near at hand.

Secondly, when faced with obstacles and so much evil in the world, we are often tempted to run away or to look for excuses or fake solutions. Some people turn to alcohol while others to sex in order to find some satisfaction. Jesus reminds us: “Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life, and that day will be sprung on you suddenly, like a trap.” Remember that no one can escape judgment. Everyone will be asked to give an account of their action. Jesus assures us of this: “For it will come down on every living man on the face of the earth.”

Thirdly, we must “stay awake and pray”. This does not mean that we should be hiding in the church 24 hours a day. On the contrary, true prayer leads us closer to God and to others. Through prayer, the Lord will increase our love and make us love one another and the whole human race as St. Paul writes in the second reading. Staying awake means that we must take our spiritual development seriously. If our faith is still at the level of a primary school child, we will not be ready when the time comes for us to meet God face to face. St. Paul urges each and every one of us to continue growing in our faith life.

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