FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Dreaming for so long he did not know he had become a Butterfly
First Reading (Jer 33:
14-16): A righteous Branch sprung up from David
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly… Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man (Lk 21: 34-36)
The first Sunday of Advent is the beginning of the Church's liturgical year. It is like the Church's New Year. If "a year's resolution begins in spring" (1) it is worthwhile for us at this start of the year to set the main theme for the entire year, like a 'keynote' that connects the thoughts for the entire year. After all, a good start is half-way to success.
Today's Scripture urges us to be 'alert', that is, to stay awake, be forewarned and avoid drowsiness. So let this theme or key be the melody for the coming year.
In the above Scripture there are four points I would like to highlight. First is 'dissipation, drunkenness, and the worries of life'; second, 'catching you unexpectedly' ; third, 'be alert and pray'; fourth, 'to stand before the Son of Man.' The background for this passage of Scripture, of course, is the last days and the final judgment. At that time “there will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory.” (Lk 21: 25-27)
At that time each individual must "stand before the Son of Man," that is, before our Judge, Jesus Christ, and give an account of his/her life.
Throughout life we must be accountable to many people: in a family,
children are accountable to their parents and siblings; parents are
accountable to their children. In school students are accountable to
teachers and vice versa. In a democratic society, government officials
must be accountable to the people and civil servants are
For all, there is a final accountability. That is at the final judgment when we will be accountable to Jesus Christ. At that time we must present to Jesus Christ our entire life, and whether or not we always did our best - that is the most complete accountability. With that account, we are able to "stand before the Son of Man" without shame or regret, awaiting his merciful judgment and warm welcome as he receives us into his Father's house.
In order to be able to stand before the Son of Man, Scripture reminds us that we must be alert and pray. Prayer is an important way to 'stay awake'.
We must stay awake because truly there are too many things that confuse us, make us addicted, bind us with fetters. These are the things that today's Scripture speaks about, "we are weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life." In other words, greed, self-indulgence, inability to 'let go' due to unrelenting stubbornness - these are some of the things that prevent us from remaining alert.
Greed makes us so blind that we see only those things which we desire and nothing else besides; self-indulgence makes us unable to make sound judgments. Because of our stubbornness and the inability to 'let go,' we lack insight, and waste life on things that are worthless. It is difficult then to remain alert, and if we are not sufficiently alert we cannot be accountable for our own lives, much less be accountable to God.
In fact, lacking such alertness we can become like a person living in a prolonged
dream. We live in a state of aimlessness, day-dreaming out of despondency
or dreaming mocking dreams of self-deception. Eventually there occurs
this phenomenon: "Dreaming for so long, he was not aware that he
had been transformed into a butterfly."(2)
We do not know if the man, (Zhuang Zhou) dreamed about the butterfly
or if the butterfly dreamed about the man. Whichever, it was a foolish
way to go through life.
One of the most effective ways to remain alert is through prayer, prayer that puts God at the centre of our lives and at the same time fixes our view on the world. Prayer enables us to save time for ourselves as well as to have time with God in a world that is becoming more and more impersonal. Prayer allows us to enter into our inner-most being and to get in contact with our true emotions and needs. We can listen to what God speaks within our hearts, and it helps us enter into God's heart and become more closely united with God.
Truly when we enter into God's heart we will look at the world from God's point of view and love the world with God's heart. That is the time of our most heightened alertness.
Let us then maintain this state of heightened alertness throughout
the year to come.